Which part of Pakistan’s population is worth investing the most in? The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has provided a convincing answer: the 10-year-old girl. During the launch of the State of World Population Report 2016 , the UNFPA country representative noted that 35 percent of Pakistan’s population was between zero and 14 years of age. Out of this, two million are 10-year-old girls. This is the group that the fund feels has the most potential. It argued that if Pakistan invests in them, each of them could contribute $18,773 in income instead of the current $8,928. This high potential is contrasted against the poor state of basic services provided to adolescent girls, who remain less educated than boys despite performing much better in their schooling. Forced marriages, child labour and other social practices restricting the potential of these girls remain very much in place as their potential to contribute meaningfully to society is not tapped in. According to data, 44 out of every 1,000 women aged between 15 and 19 years in Pakistan are reported to have given birth, which confirms that at least five percent of Pakistani girls are married off before the age of 18.
According to the UNFPA, the age of 10 is the right age to focus on the development of young girls into active members of our society. It suggests that if all 10-year-old girls completed secondary education in the 48 countries with the most gender inequality, they could contribute $21 billion a year to their economy. This means that there is not only a moral case for providing girls their rights, but also an economic one. Families living in poverty can begin to think of a brighter future. What is interesting is that every additional year of a girl’s education increases her income more than every comparable year for a boy. Despite this, around 16 million girls around the world never start school. It should be our duty to provide young girls with many possibilities for their future, instead of offering the single choice of marriage and domestic work. The process that excludes girls from fulfilling their potential is a systematic one. As a society, Pakistan is faced with a stark choice. Does is want to integrate women into its social and economic life as full citizens or does it want their contribution to remain impaired by forced marriages and denied access to schooling? Fulfilling the rights of the children we bring into the world is one of our most important duties. We would do well to take the UN’s advice and come up with ways to make sure the potential of our girls does not go wasted.