Not a minor problem: 400,000 children deprived of education in tribal districts

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Updated 13 November 2018
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Not a minor problem: 400,000 children deprived of education in tribal districts

  • Lack of schools and facilities major reason for students in KP province to opt out
  • Residents urge government to prioritize measures for increased levels of literacy in the region

PESHAWAR: Staying true to his campaign and electoral promises, Prime Minister Imran Khan ensured that the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) was eventually merged with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. When the bill finally became a law in May this year, it gave residents ample reasons to celebrate. 
However, today, nearly six months after the merger, several complained that children were being denied their basic right to education, which continues to remain a distant dream. Tribesmen from the volatile region who urged the government to prioritize the education sector said that hundreds of children had dropped out of school as they were forced to study in the open due to a lack of properly-constructed facilities in the South Waziristan, Bajaur and other tribal districts.
Sikandar Mehsud, a tribesman from South Waziristan, said that at least 204 children study under a tree in Shereen Khel -- a small village on the outskirts of Makeen -- once regarded as the epicenter of insurgency and the hometown of former Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leader, Baitullah Mehsud.
Surrounded by gigantic mountains, the Shereen Khel village boasts a population of roughly 2,000 but has no buildings for its schools. Mir Kalam, a tribesman from the area said that because of this reason he has been teaching children for the past one year without getting any incentives for his services. “I teach children voluntarily to create awareness among them and to make them responsible citizens of the country,” Kalam said.
Back in 2009, when the Pakistani military launched its operations to stamp out militants from the South Waziristan region, it triggered a mass exodus of local families. However, they have since been repatriated to their respective villages in the district, according to Sayed Umar, a coordinator at the South Waziristan FATA Disaster Management Authority. 
The children, however, continue to lack access to basic education. “Roughly, around 400,000 children are out of school in the tribal areas but plans are being implemented to enroll them,” Shoaib Khan, a senior official at the FATA Education Directorate, said.
He said that around 1,000 to 1,100 educational institutions are either damaged or non-functional across the region bordering Afghanistan, adding that the government, in collaboration with foreign donors such as the UNDP, had plans to rebuild all the schools and colleges in the area and ensure they were fully functional. 
Maulana Jamaluddin, a lawmaker from the region told Arab News that he has been apprised of the issue and has taken it up with the relevant authorities to build a proper facility for children in Shereen Khel. “I have already told the FATA Education Directorate to expedite the process to rebuild the damaged institutions,” he added.
Another example is of the 200 children who have been attending classes in the open fields of Khayati, another dusty hamlet in the Bajaur tribal district. Said Munir, a teacher at the Maktab Primary School in Tehsil Utmankhel, told Arab News that the school has no drinking water, furniture, boundary walls or washroom facilities. 
He added that the educational institution -- operational since 1985 – boasted a strength of 400 students which has now been reduced to 160 because the parents did not want their children to study under the open sky. “This school can be turned into one of the best educational institutions if the government provides us with the much-needed facilities such as buildings and infrastructure,” Munir said.
Misbahuddin Khan, a social activist from the Bajaur region said that the school has been functional for the past 20 years despite a lack of infrastructure. However, during harsh weather conditions, children often choose to skip school. “Most of the times in summer and winter, children fall ill because of the hostile weather conditions,” Khan added.
He reasoned that since most of the families have been repatriated, the government should take accelerated measures to work towards the construction of school buildings or to rebuild institutes that were damaged during military operations. Khan said that the FATA Secretariat and FATA Education Directorate have been informed about the problem, but concrete measures have yet to be taken to address the issue.
Another issue at hand, as highlighted by Mehsud, was that despite some educational institutions being housed in a proper facility, the schools or colleges remain non-functional due to a lack of teaching staff. Case in point being the Girls Degree College -- built in 2016 in the Ladha area of the South Waziristan region -- which has a sprawling building but has yet to hire teachers.
Samreen Mehsud, a college student, demanded that the government expedites the hiring process so that girls and women in the area can make full use of the facility at hand. She added that several children are either deprived of an education or forced to go to other cities of the country for higher studies.
Another school in Mamakhel, a small village located in the Orakzai tribal district, is in shambles, too. With two rooms for more than 300 students, a majority of the students were forced to attend classes conducted in tents as the rooms' roof, doors, and windows were damaged.


Islamabad administration invites beggars, trans people to join campaign to ban plastic

Updated 23 August 2019
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Islamabad administration invites beggars, trans people to join campaign to ban plastic

  • Deputy commissioner proposes that marginalized groups sell paper and fabric bags instead of begging on the streets
  • Local government banned the manufacture, sale and distribution of plastic carrier bags last week

ISLAMABAD: The deputy commissioner of Pakistan’s federal capital has invited beggars and transgender persons to sell paper and fabric bags instead of seeking alms around the city, thus helping the Ministry of Climate Change implement its decision to ban plastic bags.
The Islamabad local government banned the manufacture, sale, and distribution of plastic carrier bags last week, on the country’s independence day, as part of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “Clean, Green Pakistan” campaign.
The new ban follows a three-month-long campaign to raise awareness about the environmental hazards of plastic bags, which can kill wildlife, block drainage systems, collect in waterways and cause other environmental and health problems.
“We have invited transgender people and beggars to sell paper bags – or any type of biodegradable shopping bags – in the city,” Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat, Islamabad’s deputy commissioner, told Arab News on Friday. “We will neither charge them rental or license fee nor impose a fine on them. They can also set up makeshift stalls after informing us at a location of their choice.”
Shafqaat is spearheading the awareness campaign against plastic bags in Islamabad and said involving beggars and transgender persons in the administration’s campaign against plastic would also help them earn a decent living.
“Our local administration’s new policy has widely been welcomed by the public,” the official said. “This is because our aim is also to help these marginalized segments and make them contribute toward a clean and green country.”
Pakistan is on its way to becoming the 128th country in the world that will end the use of non-biodegradable material made from various types of polymers that are harmful to the environment. It is ranked number seven on the index of climate change.
In an interview to Arab News just days before the ban came into effect, State Minister for Climate Change Zartaj Gul said: “We want Pakistan to be plastic-free because it is a burden on our environment.”
She also added that Pakistan wanted to demonstrate to the world that it was “contributing to green initiatives.”