PESHAWAR: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Elementary and Secondary Education Department (ESED) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) have launched an education support programme for adolescent girl students in newly merged tribal districts.

The pilot project aims to provide income support to families of adolescent girls so that they are able to meet their food and nutrition needs during COVID-19 and continue their schooling, says a press release.

Under this programme, nearly 21,000 girls between grade 6 and 10, enrolled in 288 government girls’ high schools in all the seven newly merged districts and six sub-divisions will be assisted. The project was launched by KP Education Minister Akbar Ayub Khan and WFP Pakistan Representative and Country Director Chris Kaye at the Committee Room of the ESED.

“We are initiating this pilot project with the support of World Food Programme, envisioning a large-scale provincial cash stipend programme where every enrolled child will be assisted with financial assistance,” said the provincial minister.

He also shared that it is the priority of the provincial government to ensure that all out-of-school children are encouraged to attend school as more than 1 million children of age 4-14 years are out of school in the newly merged districts and 67 percent of the population is unable to read or write (with the figure rising to 87 percent for women). Schools throughout the country have been closed since March 2020 due to COVID-19 and now expected to start from mid-September.

“An educated woman is aware of her rights and is less likely to be a victim of domestic or sexual abuse. An educated mother contributes towards the prosperity and well-being of her children, family and community,” said Kaye.

“The World Food Programme is proud to be working together with the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to ensure that all children are well-nourished, healthy and can access quality education.”

Pakistan is home to 22.6 million children between the ages of 5–16 years who currently do not attend school (12.1 million girls and 10.5 million boys). The merged districts have a rich demography with the adolescent population being over 1.6 million, 48 percent of which are girls. Youth have the ability to drive the economy forward, if investment in health and education is continued for quality services.