Pakistan's top judge on Monday ordered a nationwide investigation of hundreds of "ghost" schools where teachers do nothing but draw salaries and buildings are occupied by animals.
"There are animals kept in schools and the buildings have been turned into stables. This is what we are doing to our children when education is a constitutional right," chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said.
Education is a major challenge in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) says public spending on education is less than 2.5 percent of GDP. Only nine countries in the world spend less on education.
Nearly half of all primary school age children and nearly three quarters of young girls are not enrolled in primary school in Pakistan, according to a UN and government report published in December.
Last October, education activist 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban in the northwestern district of Swat. She is now recovering in England and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Chaudhry on Monday took up a petition dating back a year from a charity in Pakistan's southern province of Sindh asking the Supreme Court to investigate fake schools, most of them in rural districts.
He ordered district judges across Pakistan to survey fake schools and submit a report by March 18.
"The government has failed to provide any answer or details about the state of ghost and non-functional schools, while apparently funds and salaries were being disbursed as buildings remain abandoned or occupied by animals," he said.
"This is not the court's job to micro mange things, but we have to enforce fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution," Chaudhry added.
Rehmat Ullah, the coordinator of charity Sindh Rural Development Society who brought the petition, said 60,000 children alone are not going to school in the rural Sindh district of Matiari.
He showed the judges photos and newspaper reports about a school being used as a police station in the village of Jati.
The Supreme Court has been at loggerheads for years with the government over a series of corruption and contempt cases, which brought down then-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in June 2012.
Pakistan is due to hold general elections by May, which would mark the first democratic transition of power in the country's history.