She’s deaf, but does that eliminate her right to education?

Published: October 17, 2015

Sonia’s picture, in which she is holding a poster and demanding secondary school education for special children, can be seen on social media. PHOTO: TWITTER (SONIA KHAN)

Like any other student, 13-year-old Sonia Khan was extremely excited about her promotion to the seventh grade. For her, this was a whole new journey that allowed her to explore her life through books and knowledge. But unfortunately, the hope was diminished when she was denied admission to the next grade by the school authorities.

Sonia, along with her brothers Hassan Khan and Faisal Khan, are all born with hearing and speech impairments. They are students of a government school for the deaf at Timergara, Lower Dir, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Due to no secondary schools available for special children in the area, the three siblings, along with many other special needs children, were forced to stay uneducated after completing six years of basic education.

Call it K-P authorities’ bad governance or the weak and corrupt education structure in Pakistan, the school administrations have been unable to make arrangements for further educating students with special needs. Sonia and her siblings’ current school is located in a rented building and lacks all the necessary facilities which should be provided to children with special needs. Amongst other shortcomings is the shortage of trained staff and proper infrastructure, which more or less, is the issue of every public school throughout the country.

It has been several months since Sonia and her classmates have been out of school. They are waiting for K-P government to fulfil their basic demand of education. In K-P, the ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) is spending a huge amount of the provincial budget on education, as compared to any other province. However, they are painting all the students with the same brush and are not taking into consideration the fact that appropriate institutions, facilities, and staff that are required for educating children with special needs.

There has always a lapse between the rhetoric and implementation in Pakistan on the government’s part, especially when it comes to public health and education. There is an estimate of 1.25 million deaf children in Pakistan. A minute percentage of them receive education from private schools specialised for deaf children. But Sonia and many like her are living in remote areas, where private schools are scarce and not an option.

According to Sonia, when her application was turned down by the school authorities, due to no secondary schools present in Malakand division for special children, she was left with two options – either stay at home and help her mother in house chores, or make her muted voice heard beyond provincial borders.

Before Sonia, several students with special needs were left with no choice but to give up and stay at home. They were considered to be mentally or physically handicapped and a burden on the society. Sonia unmuted herself and demanded education rights for children like her, through peaceful protests and social media campaigns.

She convinced her classmates to help her raise these issues to the local authorities. The children held small and peaceful demonstrations outside the Timergara press club. Her father, Ameer Zad, also raised his voice supporting his three special children.  They managed to take the issue to the local elected representatives and ministers and made contacts with philanthropists. However, initially, all their efforts were in vain.

Sonia decided to take her plea a step further by taking her demands to social media, due to which it soon turned into a movement. Her constant tweets to media personnel, social media activists from different political parties and media houses made a huge difference. Her voice reached across borders which is when BBC Urdu covered her story with details of the problems and shortcomings such children are facing in K-P and other provinces of Pakistan.

This specific tweet became my devoir for this cause:

According to Sonia, on October 9th, the administration provided temporary space to these children, however, they will not get any admission receipt or year-end certificate at the end of the year.

All these children want is the opportunity of further education in order to become useful citizens of the society, instead of being labelled as a burden.


Farheen Rizvi

The author is a supporter of the MQM, has a Bachelors in business management from Iowa and a Masters degree in international management from the University of Maryland. She works for US based charities like IMHO and SUN while based in Virginia. She tweets @farririzvi (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Yaqoob

    This is a real issue in the KP province in Pakistan where Imran Khan is rulingRecommend

  • Hassan Khan

    The KP Govt should establish at least primary school at Tehsil and Secondary school at District level for special needs children. Kids With Special Needs are also citizens of this country, the state should fulfill its duties to educate and rehabilitate themRecommend

  • Rafia Khan

    Great work Sonia daughter. We are proud of you and support your cause for right to education. Good work. Keep it up my daughter.Recommend

  • Shahid Majid Kazmi

    A genuine issue, faced by real human beings at Khyber Pakhtoonkhw. KP Govt should address the issue and give Sonia her right to education.Recommend

  • Shahid Majid Kazmi

    We support Sonia cause for right to education. The Government and society should address the genuine issue of right to education at Khyber PakhtoonkhwaRecommend

  • Rabia Zakir Khan

    Education is a basic right to every child without any discrimination of physical ability/disability, class, creed and place of birth. Why KP is failing to provide education to special needs kids. So sad. We support Sonia Khan @SoniaSohnyRecommend

  • Akbar Khan

    Its not good that Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa did not care the special children’s education. Special children needs special attention. Hats up SoniaRecommend

  • Umar Khan

    Good work Sonia. We are with youRecommend

  • Rahim Ullah Jan

    I hope the PTI lead provincial government will listen to Sonia voiceRecommend

  • Hay Muhammad

    Its really not good, that special children in our country are not provided with their rightsRecommend

  • Meraj Muhammad Kha

    Great effortRecommend

  • Javeria

    Special persons are the most vulnerable in our society. Our government should educate and skilled them.Recommend

  • Naeemullah

    Education for allRecommend

  • Karachistan

    great effort to publicise those.Recommend

  • Pashtoon

    It is a clear discrimination with special children. Bravo Sonia. We are with you. Go and fight for your right to educationRecommend

  • Fazal Dad Khan

    Sonia is not deaf our rulers are blind, deaf and dumb. They don’t see and listen the needs of special children.Recommend

  • Zubaida Suleman

    Congratulations Farheen Rizvi for highlighting and bravo Sonia for your efforts. Girls rising in Pakistan for their rights. Its goodRecommend

  • Nazia

    Thank you Fareeha for your efforts to highlight this important issue and become the voice of these voiceless and marginalized Special children. I will just add one point.
    Only 4% of children with special needs hv access to schools.Children with disabilities need inclusive schools
    all over Pakistan. KP should comes forward and become example for other provinces. It will also contribute to their long standing slogan of “Taaleem Ka Ensaf” “”تعلیم کا انصافـRecommend

  • Maheen

    Where is Taaleem Ka Ensaf of Imran KhanRecommend

  • Latif U llah

    This is a very critical issue. Shall we leave these kids to grow as illiterate and become a burden over the society?Recommend

  • Numan

    The Government of KPK, PTI, JI, ANP, NGOs and philanthropists all responsible for such a terrible status of education for special children in our country. Successive governments and its leaders are just making money. The children of elite class are studying aboard. Special children born in the poor and lower middle class are deprived for all rights that may available to elite class children. In this specific case there are three special children in a single family. They need special attention.Recommend

  • Nadia

    This is a holistic problem all aver the Pakistan. Kindly don’t only target KPK. We support the issue and will continue our support to her struggle foe education.Recommend

  • Naureen

    I have come to know through reliable sources that the government has devised strategy to streamline the special childrenRecommend

  • Salman Afridi

    Education is the right of every human beingRecommend

  • Nasrullah Khilji

    My humble request to all political parties and its leadership to join hands for education, health, poverty eradication and to root out extremism and terrorism from our beloved country. If we get together for the development agenda no Sonia will be leave behind.Recommend

  • Shafi

    I don’t know where the Government spent huge funds allocated for education. Publicity only?Recommend

  • Sameena

    Inspired by the struggle of Sonia for her right to education. Shame deaf, dumb and blind rulersRecommend

  • Rehmana Haq

    Is the GovKP didn’t have enough funds for education. Or they ignored Special Children’s education? Really shocked by the Pervez Khattak led PTI government in KPK. IK should focus on the issue please.Recommend

  • Sayed Imran

    Hope Sonia get her right to education soon. This government spent more budget on education then previous one.Recommend

  • Waseem Khan

    Children With Special Needs are the most deserving segment of the society. Being the vulnerable the government of KPK should focus on their education and mainstreamingRecommend

  • Nabila Rehman

    Clear discrimination by the PTI GovtKP. We are ashamed that we elect you as CM #KhattakRecommend

  • Rehana Salim

    Incompetent Pervez KhattakRecommend