Turn­ing ten

Enterprise - - Letters -

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.

Nasir Sar­war,

Sar­godha.

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