PESHAWAR: A Pakistani boy who set himself on fire because his parents could not afford to buy him a new school uniform has died, his family and officials said Sunday.
The tragic story is a reminder of the woeful lives of Pakistan's many dirt-poor citizens. It brings out the challenges facing those clinging to the hope that education could be the ticket to climbing up from the bottom rung of society.
Like many in Pakistan, 13-year-old Kamran Khan's family did not have enough money to send him to school. He was such a promising student that a local private school allowed him to attend for free, said the boy's older brother, Saleem Khan.
Even then, the family struggled. The boys' father borrowed money from relatives to buy a work visa to Saudi Arabia four months ago, but he hasn't yet found a job there, said the elder Khan. Their mother works as a maid.
The younger Khan used to wander the streets in Shabqadar, their town of 60,000 in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, looking for bits of metal scrap and other items to sell to help out the family, said his brother.
He never asked for anything, his brother said, but last month he pleaded with his mother for several days to buy him a new school uniform, a white shalwar kameez, the loose-fitting pants and top worn by both men and women in Pakistan. He was embarrassed that his old one was worn out and patched up.
His mother sympathized with him but repeatedly told him the family didn't have the money. She finally lost her patience with him on March 24 and slapped him, said his brother.
The young boy responded by saying, "If you can't buy me a uniform, then I'm going to kill myself," according to his brother.
He stormed out of their house, doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire, said his brother. The youth suffered burns on 65 percent of his body. He was taken to an army-run hospital in Punjab province. But the family could only raise one-tenth of the roughly $5,500 they needed for his treatment.
He died of his injuries on Saturday, said Zahir Shah, a police officer in Shabqadar.
Public school fees in Pakistan average only around $2 per month, but even this is often too much for poor Pakistanis, who tend to have many children.
About 30 percent of Pakistanis have received less than two years of education, according to a report issued last year by the Pakistani government.
The results are poor even for those kids who do attend school. Around 50 percent of school children aged 6-16 can't read a sentence, said the report.