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Violation of the Rights of Indigenous People in Pakistan: Analytical Essay

Pakistan has a population of almost 200 million people and is the second most populous Islamic state in the world. The national language is Urdu and the main religion is Islam. In addition to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Pakistan has also signed or ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination.

In 2007, Pakistan voted in favor of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Pakistan’s official documentation, such as its Constitution, do not acknowledge indigenous people. Instead, they are recognized as minorities and typically their religious identity trumps their linguistic or ethnic identities. The main indigenous people in Pakistan are the Kochis, Rabari, Baluch, Bakarwal, Kehal, Jogi, Kabootra, Sanyasi and Kalash (which now has been declared as a religion).

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Ongoing Rights Violations against Indigenous People

Forced Conversions and Restrictions on Religious Freedom (Articles 1, 15)

Blasphemy law in Pakistan requires punishment (including life imprisonment and the death penalty) for any insult of Islam, the prophet, or the Quran. Religious extremists in the country continually lobby for the death penalty to be enacted in the case of blasphemy.[footnoteRef:1] Blasphemy law is related almost solely to Islam, ignoring the millions of non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan. In 2013, 34 people were charged with blasphemy.[footnoteRef:2] The law is being misused, sometimes for personal revenge. “The majority of blasphemy cases were based on false accusations stemming from property issues or other personal or family vendettas rather than genuine instances of blasphemy and they inevitably lead to mob violence against the entire (minority) community.”

The Kalash Indigenous Peoples face particular religious discrimination. They are Pakistan’s smallest religious minority. Travelling Islamic scholars travel to Kalash villages and attempt to forcibly convert the Kalash to Islam. This is a systematic and institutional affront to their Indigenous religious heritage. If Kalash children attend public school, they are only exposed to Islam. Additionally, Muslims have blamed the Kalash for recent natural disasters, seeing the destruction as a penalty for the Kalash “non-believers.” This kind of discourse breeds contempt for the Kalash among the Muslim majority.

Lack of Access to Indigenous Language and Quality Education (Articles 3, 13, 15)

Pakistan has the second highest rate of out-of-school children in the world, with 20% of primary school age children out of school. In Pakistan, the highest percentages of out-of-school children are in Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA.) 70% of children who are out of school are poor girls from rural areas.

Security concerns are also a barrier to education. The Taliban routinely bomb schools whose curriculum is deemed too secular or Western. This disproportionately affects girls, who are more likely to be taken out of school due to an attack. The already poor infrastructure and lack of funding for schools makes rebuilding difficult and in many cases unlikely.

In general women face discrimination in the education system. Two-thirds of illiterate individuals in Pakistan are women. The Gender Parity Index for primary education is especially low in Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Indigenous Peoples face discrimination in the school system, both in person and through the education materials. “Public school textbooks used by all children often had a strong Islamic orientation, and Pakistan’s religious minorities were referenced derogatorily or omitted altogether.” Hindus are portrayed the most negatively, followed by Christians. The National Commission for Justice and Peace corroborated this, saying that hate speech against Hindus, Christians, and India broadly were common, as were “distorted historical facts.”

Native language instruction is virtually non-existent in Pakistan. Lessons are taught in Urdu or English, impeding accessibility for students from communities that don’t speak these languages, of which there are many, and impeding the survival of these languages. Because they are not formally taught, 28 languages are in danger of becoming extinct.

The safety and sanitation conditions at existing facilities also do not encourage attendance. In rural Pakistan, home to many Indigenous Peoples, only 64% of public schools have clean drinking water, only 57% have boundary walls, and only 47% have functioning toilets.

Health and Safety Concerns (Articles 10, 12)

The maternal mortality rate in Pakistan is high, with pregnancy and related complications being the leading cause of death among women aged 12-49. The maternal mortality rate is 276 deaths per 100,000 live births, the second highest in South Asia. This is partially due to the fact that over 65% of births take place in the home without professional assistance.

The maternal mortality rate is approximately one-and-a-half times as high in rural areas as in urban areas. This is largely due to low quality facilities, lack of female staff, and lack of knowledge about the facilities. There is, on average, only one hospital bed per 1,665 people. Health care is often expensive and located far away from rural communities, which is inconvenient and adds an associated transportation cost.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world which still has reported cases of polio, and the incidences of polio are alarmingly high. Militants attack polio workers, which is an obstacle to providing immunization, especially in rural areas. Cholera, malaria, and dengue fever rates are also high, endangering the lives of many, especially children.

Pakistan State Report

The Pakistan State Report mentions many issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples, but rarely refers to them directly, and typically as “ethnic minority groups.” The report outlines the country’s work on guaranteeing the following rights: self-determination, the right to work, equal access to justice, the right to fair conditions of work, the right to social security, protections for the family, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to health, the right to education, and finally the right to cultural life

The report emphasizes the importance of self-determination, stating that the government supports that right for “all peoples subjected to colonization, alien domination or foreign occupation, including the people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOK) and the people of the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories in accordance with the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.” The report also acknowledges that dropout rates are higher among “disadvantaged groups,” especially in rural areas.

Indigenous Peoples are referred to directly only in the section outlining the right to cultural life. The report states that “in collaboration with other institutions and organizations, a number of steps have been taken for promoting the cultural life of indigenous people which includes celebrating Kalash traditional dance and dress, arranging Pakhtoon night at PNCA (Pakistan National Council of Arts), depicting their traditional dances, cuisine, dresses, etc.” It also emphasized actions taken by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony to allow religious minorities to celebrate their holidays, such as Holi, Diwali, and Christmas.


  1. “Blasphemy Law Review in Pakistan.” Open Doors USA. 30 Jan. 2017. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.
  2. Jacob, Peter. “The blasphemy laws.” The News. 06 Feb. 2016. Web. 02 May. 2017.]
  3. 'Earthquake was Allah's wrath for Kalash community's immoral ways'' The Express Tribune. N.p., 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 02 May 2017.
  4. Human Rights Watch, “Dreams turned into Nightmares”: Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Pakistan, March 2017. Web. 02 May 2017.
  5. Ali, M. “ Battle of survival: Watching the tongues slip into extinction” Express Tribune. 21 Feb. 2012. Web. 02 May 2017.
  6. 'World Health Day: In Pakistan, healthcare remains a luxury.' The Express Tribune. N.p., 07 Apr. 2013. Web. 02 May 2017.
  7. “Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 16 and 17 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Pakistan.” United Nations Economic and Social Council. 16 Oct 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

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