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Attacks on Schools Must Stop

Posted: 02/04/2013 13:11

Gordon Brown

A third Pakistani school has been attacked in an escalating wave of violence by Taliban militants determined to stamp out the provision of girls' education.

Two out of the three classrooms of an all-girls school in Zalim Kalan in the Bannu Province were the latest school buildings to be destroyed, this time by 4.5kg of explosives detonated from a plastic canister hidden by terrorists inside the school.

This latest bombing follows last Friday's shooting of Shahnaz Nazli, a 41-year-old teacher who was gunned down in front of her son 200 metres away from the all-girls school where she worked in Shahkas, part of the Khyber tribal belt on the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Saturday saw the bombing of a school prize giving ceremony at the Rehmania Muhalla district chapter of the National Secondary School in Karachi, demonstrating that the violence had moved from the tribal areas right to the heart of Pakistan's urban areas.

"Parts of Pakistan are among the most dangerous places in the world to go to school today", according the Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch, who stated that "It's time Pakistani authorities understand that expressions of outrage alone are inadequate and such attacks will only end if they hold abusers accountable."

So severe are the new attacks that one columnist in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper headlined her article 'Shoot a teacher: Kill a county". Another national paper, The Express Tribune, has the headline 'How Many with Will Be Murdered in the War On Education?' The article is subtitled 'Would I want to teach -- or get an education at the peril of my own life?'.

According to an up-to-date report by Human Rights Watch, at least 250 schools have been shut down by bombing or arson attacks in just two years, preventing thousands of girls from going to school. The Zalim Kalan School is now closed indefinitely.

But until now the vast majority of the schools shut by this violence are to be found in the tribal areas, in KPK and Balochistan, whose terrain makes it difficult to protect pupils and teachers.

As a sign of changing times the Karachi school bombed last week is unlikely to reopen. Instead since the death of the school, Principal parents, fearful of retaliation for sending their children to school, have been pulling their children out. There is no doubt that this is what the murderous attacks are designed to achieve. Saturday's attack, which happened during the school's annual prize giving day with its invited guests, was calculated to send a message in the most savage manner possible. For we now know that in the presence of 500 students, mainly girls, a tennis ball loaded with 250 grams of explosives - including ball bearings designed to maim - was hurled into the school, followed by a spray of thirty bullets from 30 bore pistols, leading to not just the death of the principal and injuries to two adults, but three students were also hurt: Tahira Nazeer, ten; Amna Kareem, eight; and the principal's daughter Atiya Rasheed, 12.

It is likely that these murderous bombings will escalate in the run-up to the hotly contested Pakistan elections. But in a strong gesture indicating that Pakistani civil society is waking up to the cause of girls' education, and that a silent majority is no longer prepared to stand by and allow threats and intimidation to prosper with impunity, a coalition of organisations have come together today demanding security for Pakistan's girls and teachers and supporting a scholarship fund in honour of the slain teacher, Shahnaz Nazli.

Education International, the worldwide teachers' organisation with 30million members, is also calling for parents teachers and students to sign a petition now available at educationenvoy.org and it is working with the Pakistan Teachers' Organization's Council; the Pakistan Workers' Federation; the Central Organization of Teachers and all the Pakistan Government School Teacher Associations - all seeking a cessation of violence against teachers who are defending the right of girls to go to school.

The rising tide of violence against girls' education demands a global response. This month in Washington the UN Secretary General and World Bank President will host meetings designed to help off-track countries deliver the goal of universal education. Special sessions will be held on universal girls' education and child trafficking.

Last October - shocked by the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai and by persistent threats, intimidation, shootings, arson attacks and murder that are the Taliban's weapons in a war against girls' opportunity - a total of one million Pakistani citizens signed a petition calling for free compulsory education for all girls and boys and the Pakistani government agreed for the first time to legislate universal schooling and provided stipends for three million children. Now authorities in Pakistan are under international pressure to deploy their security services to ensure the safety and protection of teachers and ensure all girls can go to school. Most political parties fighting the elections have agreed to radical increases in investment in schooling. Now, it is hoped that a new petition focusing on the right of all girls to go school - and on security and safety of teachers - can lead not just to the usual words of protest but defiant and courageous action.

 

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