Pakistan launches literacy plan for 3m poor children

Islamabad (Dawn/ANN) - Pakistan launched yesterday a four-year literacy programme under which more than three million children of poor families, especially girls, will get free education.

The programme "Waseela-i-Taleem" was launched by President Asif Ali Zardari under the umbrella of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to enrol children of poor families in primary schools.

UN's Special Envoy for Global Education and former British prime minister Gordon Brown attended the ceremony. The programme was launched in connection with the Global Action Day for Malala Yousufzai being observed today on a call given by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Brown presented to Zardari a petition carrying one million signatures of people across the world to express solidarity with Malala.

Zardari also signed the petition.

"On the eve of Malala Day the government launches the special Waseela-i-Taleem initiative to give free education to children, particularly female children, of the poorest of the poor families in the country," the president said.

"The government accords high priority to the promotion of education as no country can make any progress without investing in its human capital. We firmly believe that ignorance and poverty go hand in hand as poverty combined with ignorance fuels militancy and extremism. We must fight against ignorance to fight poverty and militancy."

He added: "The more the militants strike the more we will rebound with determination, defiance and courage. Let there be no doubt or mistake about it."

The Malala Day is being observed all over the world to demonstrate solidarity with the brave daughter of Pakistan who stood defiantly to the militants to pursue her education and refused to bow to their threats and faced the bullets instead of giving up.

"Malala stands tall today as a symbol of girl education and a symbol of defiance against those who wish to impose their obscurantist agenda behind the facade of religion," Zardari said.

He said Malala symbolised resilience of Pakistani girls and women and, therefore, the attack on her was an attack on every child in the region.

"It is an attack on the future of our region. We cannot sit idly as our children are attacked. We must act urgently."

He said that observance of the Malala Day by the international community was a demonstration of realisation that the attackers of Malala would not stop at Pakistan and threatened the whole world.

"It demonstrates the commitment by the world community that no matter what the odds, together we will fights the militants and not let them succeed in their agenda," he said.

"On this occasion I wish to compliment UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for urging the international community to observe Malala Day," he said, adding that it would lay a solid foundation for a bright future of the poor children of the country.

He thanked the international community especially the DFID, World Bank and international development partners, including the UK, China and Turkey, for their support in promoting education in the country.

The BISP, he said, was the flagship programme of the government for poverty alleviation and women empowerment and expressed satisfaction that it was developing into a comprehensive social safety net.

Zardari called upon the provincial governments to fully support the BISP because their support was critical for the successful implementation of the programme.

He urged the provincial governments to become partners and ensure that each and every child was enrolled in school and said failure was not an option.

The best way to pay homage to the spirit of Benazir Bhutto, he said, was to join hands and work together for the welfare and uplift of the poor segments of the society.

Gordon Brown thanked the president for inviting him to Pakistan and also lauded his vision for the promotion of education in the country.

He said he would continue to assist the government in the promotion of education.

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