Pakistan’s failures in Balochistan highlighted in EU Parliament

In 2015, the Oslo Summit on Education and Development highlighted Pakistan amongst the worst in the world in terms of access to education. While the situation for access to education in undeniably poor across all of Pakistan, for the people of Balochistan, the countries largest province by land area, the situation is even worse. With numerous attacks being carried out by armed groups across the region, it seems that the Pakistani government’s repeated assurance of restoring peace rings hollow. The uncertainty and violence that has marred this region for decades has left the state of eduction in the province in ruins. In Balochistan, it has been reported that 66% of primary-age girls are not in school, and that number rises to 78% for secondary-age girls, this is nearly triple the 23% of primary-age children not in school across the country as a whole.

In a question to the European Commission submitted in April, 2019, (E-001593/2019), a Czech Republic Member of European Parliament (MEP) Michaela Šojdrová, member of the European People’s Party (EPP), asked the Commission to respond to the failure of the Pakistani government to protect generations of girls and women and provide equal access to education to all those living in the country. She highlighted that as a beneficiary of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) program “Pakistan is required to comply with core conventions on the right to education”, something that is obviously not being done.

In a more pointed question MEP Šojdrová asked how the EU is urging the Pakistani Government “to adopt a national education plan that guarantees girls living in Balochistan the same access to education as girls and boys living in Islamabad”. She also inquired if regional variations, such as the limited extent of “access to education for girls in Balochistan”, are assessed as part of the European Commission’s GSP+ monitoring process.

In closing, MEP Šojdrová requested more information on the specific actions that will be taken by the Commission “if Pakistan does not act upon the [UN] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’s [ICESCR] recommendation that ‘the State party intensify its efforts to ensure that all children enjoy, without discrimination, the right to education’” as is described in Paragraph 80 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Right’s closing observations from the first report on Pakistan in July of 2017 (E/C.12/PAK/CO/1).

On the 24th of June, 2019, Vice-President Frederica Mogherini, responsible for the European External Action Service, responded to this question on behalf of the European Commission. Her response referenced both the monitoring obligations and conventions inherent in the GSP+ regulations (No 978/2012). “Besides the GSP+ monitoring process”, continued the Commission Vice-President “the objectives promoted by the concerned conventions are also reinforced by the EU’s political dialogues and development cooperation with Pakistan, as relevant”.

Ms. Mogherini reported that the Commission is already aware of the issues within Pakistan’s education sector, particularly in regards to markedly high levels of children not in school at all. It is for this reason, she sited, that education is a focal point of the EU’s development cooperation. Moreover, Ms. Mogherini shared that the EU has currently allocated EUR 20 million specifically to the support of education reform programmes in Balochistan. In addition to this “the EU contributes to supporting education reforms [in Balochistan specifically] through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to improve governance and access to quality education in line with the Balochistan Education Sector Plan 2013-2018”. Ms. Mogherini also announced that there is an anticipated follow-up program of EUR 18 million, intended to build upon the success of the current system and ensure sustainability. This program is intended to align with the National Education Policy 2017-2025 and “further strengthen access to quality primary and middle level education in Balochistan”. At the federal level, Ms. Mogherini reported that the EU is also engaged in discussion related to the new Education Vision for the country, “including work on unified education standards across provinces”.

The Vice-President stated that “measures taken by Pakistan toward the implementation of the ICESCR, as well as all other conventions listed in Annex VIII, will feed into the next biennial GSP+ report covering the years of 2018 and 2019”.

While these steps sound promising, there is little evidence that these systems have been able to bring about real change for the women and girls living in Balochistan and whose futures remain so uncertain. Furthermore, the failures of of the Pakistani government in this respect are also its failures in complying with its GSP+ obligations.

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