NEW YORK - A Pakistani research scholar and a newspaper columnist says that a recent law enacted to promote universal literacy in Pakistan would not accomplish its objective unless the government shows it commitment by implementing it.

“Legislation alone never put anyone through school, and the law will be useless if the government does not take further action to implement it,” wrote Huma Yusuf in a blog carried in The New York Times. “At the same time, the law’s timing makes it seem more like a political calculation than a true commitment,” she said in her piece: Ghost Education.

Under the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2012, parents who refuse to send their children to school can be fined and imprisoned for three months, and employers who hire school-age children face fines and up to six months in prison.

Pakistan has the world’s second-highest rate of out-of-school children, she pointed out. “The law was passed just weeks after 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot by Taliban militants for championing girls right to education, and just months before the 2013 general elections. Yousafzai’s shooting horrified the country: On Nov. 10, Pakistanis celebrated “Malala Day” by signing petitions urging the government to pay stipends to parents who educate their daughters. Now the government is trying to piggyback on public support for Yousafzai’s cause by supporting children’s right to education.” Yusuf wrote, “But politicising the nation’s education policy is a bad idea, especially in light of Pakistan’s appalling statistics: Twenty-five million children are currently out of school, including seven million who have yet to receive any form of primary schooling. Infrastructure is inadequate: Only 62 per cent of public schools have toilets and only 39 per cent have electricity.

There are some 25,000 so-called ghost schools in Pakistan — schools that exist on paper but are used for other purposes, including as cattle pens, criminal gang headquarters, sanctuaries for drug addicts or armories. Thousands of ghost teachers draw salaries from these schools, draining millions of rupees per month from government coffers.

“Recent natural disasters and the ever-deteriorating security situation have exacerbated the situation. Summer floods over the past three years have damaged schools and displaced families, accounting for keeping 1.8 million children out of school. Meanwhile, in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Taliban militants have destroyed 710 schools, and up to 600,000 children have missed one or more years of education because of to poor security. “Above all, Pakistan will not meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals in education — 88 per cent literacy and 100 per cent enrollment in primary school by 2015 — because of low government spending. Only 2.3 per cent of Pakistan’s 2012-13 budget is allocated to education, compared with 18.4 percent of gross domestic product for defence.

The Pakistan Education Task Force concluded last year that the government would have to spend an extra 100 billion rupees, or about $1 billion, each year to meet its long-term educational goals.

And civil society groups have repeatedly called for a minimum education expenditure of 4 per cent of GDP.

If the government really wants to honour Yusafzai’s cause, it’ll have to put its money where its legislation is.”