A new report by a rights watchdog says political insecurity, insurgent violence, poverty, and state repression in Pakistan have given it one of the world's most deficient educational systems and are preventing it from improving children's education.
Human Rights Watch says in its report -- titled Shall I Feed My Daughter, Or Educate Her? Barriers To Girls Education In Pakistan, released on November 13 -- that education in the country, particularly for girls, has not improved since an international summit in Oslo in 2015 declared Pakistan "among the world's worst-performing countries in education."
The report says more than 22 million children in the country are not in school, including one-third of primary school girls and 21 percent of the country's boys.
It adds that by sixth grade, 59 percent of Pakistani girls and 49 percent of Pakistani boys are no longer attending school, with many of them forced to work to help their families make ends meet.
The report blames "political instability, disproportionate influence on governance by security forces, repression of civil society and the media, violent insurgency, and escalating ethnic and religious tensions," which it said have disrupted Pakistani society and are preventing the state from delivering essential services such as education.
The report details how a lack of education for girls in Pakistan helps perpetuate gender inequality in the country, which is worsened by high rates of violence against women that includes, rape, "honor" killings, acid attacks, forced marriage, and child marriage.
Although school attendance rates in Pakistan are poor throughout the country, some areas are far worse than others.
Balochistan, the country's largest province, reported some 81 percent of women and 52 percent of men had not completed primary school in 2014-15. An overwhelming 75 percent of women and 40 percent of men in that southwestern region had never attended school, the HRW reports says.
The government's inability to provide education for its children has led to a huge increase in the number of private schools in Pakistan. While the explosion of these new schools has increased school attendance in the country, many poverty-stricken families are unable to afford them.
Many of the private Pakistani schools are unregulated and often suffer from poorly qualified teachers and substandard curriculums, says the report.
The lack of quality state education has also led to a huge increase in the number of religious schools, or madrasahs, operating in Pakistan. Such schools are often the only option for poor children because most or all of the costs are covered by a local mosque or other religious institutions.
The government reported that in 2016, some 60 million Pakistanis -- between 6.8 and 7.6 million families -- were living in poverty, nearly 30 percent of Pakistan's population.
The report says that although the additional private and religious schools in the country may offer a small respite to Pakistan's education problems, "nothing can absolve the state of its obligation, under international and domestic law, to ensure that all children receive a decent education -- something that simply is not happening in Pakistan today."
It also notes that the Pakistani Constitution says that "the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 5 to 16 years in such a manner as may be determined by law."
HRW also criticized the Pakistani government for its lack of investment in education, noting that Islamabad spends far less than is recommended by UNESCO in its guidance on education.
An "upward bottleneck" situation also exists, says the report, as girls become older. There are fewer secondary schools than there are primary schools, and colleges and universities for girls are even more scarce, as they are also often segregated according to sex.
Yet another problem is the lack of security in the country, with many families citing violence and other crimes -- including sexual harassment and kidnappings -- as a reason not to send their girls to school.
Between 2013 and 2017, hundreds of schools have been attacked in Pakistan. The worst attack was a December 2014 massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar that killed 145 people, most of them children.
The HRW report advises Pakistan to invest more resources into education and use those resources to battle the gender disparities that exist and ensure that more children have access to quality schools.
It also recommends that Islamabad increase oversight of the education system, work closer with provincial governments, and develop a national action plan to end child marriage by 2030.
The watchdog's report was based on research in Pakistan in 2017-18 and included more than 200 interviews with students, teachers, parents, and school administrators.