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Calling for Protection of Children in Pakistan, Especially the Tribal Regions

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December 16th: Over 140 people, mostly children, were killed when unidentified armed men opened fire on a private school in Peshawar.

January 6th: schoolboy Aitzaz Hasan saved thousands of students at his school from being blown up by a suicide bomber but was himself blown up and lost his life.


June 15th:, women university students were targeted in a bomb attack in Quetta, with 11 killed.


October 27th: it was reported that a girls' school was blown up in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK).

October 9th: Malala Yousufzai and two other girls were shot on their way home from school.

September 7th: A girls school was blown up in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province in northern Pakistan.
September 9th: Another girls school was destroyed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), about 100 miles east of the previous attack.

School buildings in both these regions have been specifically targeted for several years. Girl’s schools have been a prime target.

In 2011, the number of schools reportedly destroyed by militants in the region was 440, out of which 130 were girl’s schools.
Yet there is very little mainstream media coverage of these shocking incidents. NGOs and journalists are not safe in the region, and receive frequent threats, as do locals who speak out.
The extent of the devastation is hard to assess and data is often vague and contradictory. However, with a total population of around 20 million, urgent action is needed.

The situation has been ongoing for several years.
Amnesty International reported in 2010:
'First they [the Taliban] warned owners of private schools to end co-education. Then they told the government’s girls’ schools to close. When they refused, the Taliban bombed several of them and the rest of the schools were closed for fear of bombing. At the same time, parents also stopped sending their children to schools for fear of the Taliban.'

The level of fear in the region is high, and has resulted in a mass exodus of families, mainly women and children.
According to Save the Children:
'About 250,000 people have already fled the area, with many walking for days. Some are staying in crowded camps and many others are staying with extended families that are very poor themselves and struggling to survive... The numbers are rising as the tension continues.'

A 2012 UN report stated that some 200,000 people have been displaced in Pakistan since January by security operations in the Khyber Agency on the border of Afghanistan, in FATA. The report also made references to denial of access in conflict areas to humanitarian workers.

UNICEF calls the situation 'a critical emergency':
'Camps and communities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province have been receiving internally displaced people (IDPs) since 2008. However, a fresh influx of people due to heightened insecurity since the beginning of this year [2012] has placed added pressure on resources and services.'
UNICEF Representative in Pakistan Dan Rohrmann said recently, “With 280,000 people having moved from the Khyber Agency to Nowshera District, of which over 50,000 are residing in Jalozai camp, we really have a critical emergency that is not drawing enough attention.”

There are at least three major obstacles to improving the situation.

Firstly, Pakistan objected to the 2012 UN report referring to the security operation in Khyber Agency as 'armed conflict'.
Deliberate destruction of education buildings during conflict is classified as a war crime. International humanitarian law regards schools as civilian objects that are protected from attack, so long as they are still in use as educational structures. The UN Security Council lists attacks on schools as one of six 'grave violations' during armed conflict.
However, without such a classification, the international humanitarian law related to children and armed conflict cannot be applied, and the Security Council Working Group for Children and Armed Conflict cannot closely monitoring the situation.
However, the April report from the UN Security-General to the Security Council stated:
'In 2011, Pakistan continued to experience attacks by armed groups using terror tactics and influenced by and/or associated with the Taliban or Al-Qaida, including the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Attacks have targeted Government sites, schools and civilians, including children, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and urban centres.
In 2011, 11 incidents were reported of children being used by armed groups to carry out suicide attacks, involving 10 boys, some as young as 13, and one 9-year-old girl...
Child casualties as a result of landmines and other explosive devices remained a serious concern in 2011. The majority of the casualties were reported in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, including the killing of 30 children (25 boys and 5 girls) and injuring of 49 children (29 boys and 20 girls)...
Throughout the year, schools continued to be directly targeted by armed groups in bomb and improvised explosive device attacks, resulting in 152 incidents of partial or complete destruction of school facilities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. According to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas Department of Education, a total number of 73 schools were damaged in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, with the remainder occurring in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.'

Secondly, laws framed by the National Assembly do not apply in FATA unless ordered by the President. FATA is the 'tribal belt' between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and these federally administered tribal areas come directly under Federal authority. Disputes are often 'resolved' by informal local assemblies.
In June 2012, a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, highlighted the situation:
"I am concerned that since the jurisdiction of the highest courts enshrined in the Constitution does not apply to the whole territory of Pakistan many could be deprived of their constitutional rights...
I am also concerned about reports of conflicts being resolved by informal systems, often at the grass-root or community level. Such informal dispute settlement systems are deeply rooted in conservative interpretations of tradition and/or religion and lead to conflict resolution and punishments which are in contradiction with laws in Pakistan, fundamental rights recognized in the Constitution, and international human rights standards.
The Supreme Court itself has declared on several occasions that “jirgas” and “panchayats” are unlawful assemblies and that their decision have no legal validity."

Thirdly, judges and lawyers, and those who speak out, frequently receive serious threats related to their work.

This was highlighted in July 2012 by the shocking murder of Farida Afridi, a women's rights advocate and cofounder of local grassroots NGO, SAWERA.
Gabriela Knaul drew attention to this concern in the June report:
"I am worried by the number and nature of reported cases of serious threats and attacks of judges. Physical security is an essential condition for judges to be able to carry out their duties without hindrance or interferences...
Guaranteeing security for lawyers is also of utmost importance. Threats, attacks, kidnappings and killings of lawyers should not be tolerated."
She referred especially to the integration gender perspective and women’s rights in the justice system. "I am concerned that there are currently no women on the Supreme Court and only two women in the High Courts."

Finally, the Pakistan government is obliged, under international law, to provide safe educational establishments for all children:
'Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.'
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Read more: Where Silence Rules and Schools are Bombed

Further information:  FATA and the Question of Taliban Sharia

Petition photo: Press conference and rally at the Press Club Mardan KPK [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa], organised by SAWERA and other Civil Society organisations, 17th December 2014, in honour of murdered children and staff and to request that the government provide increased security. Photo courtesy of SAWERA.

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11th November 2012

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has allocated Rs388.66 million for the promotion of girls education in two comparatively under-developed districts of Torghar and Kohistan.

22nd October 2012

It was reported that another schoolgirl from Swat - Hina Khan - has been threatened by the Taliban for speaking out:

27th October 2012:

It was reported that another girls' school has been blown up in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK):

24th October 2012

A Pakistani 'political agent' reportedly visited Khyber Agency in FATA and said that the reconstruction of all destroyed government schools in two regions of Khyber Agency would be started soon after Eid. He promised warm tents for pupils in the meantime, and - once the schools are ready - solar heating.
Mr Mutahir Zeb praised local elders for assisting the administration and security forces in improving law and order situation in the localities. And he expressed the hope that a 'maximum number' of development projects would be carried out if the same level of cooperation continued to exist between the administration and local people.
He said that technical and teaching staff as well as security would be provided to the vocational training centre in Kam Shalman area to make it operational immediately.

Furthermore, UN Special Education Envoy Gordon Brown visited Pakistan in November 2012 for talks with President Asif Ali Zardari. Mr Brown led a delegation to discuss with the Pakistani government how to improve education opportunities for children.

A petition has been set up on the website of the special envoy, calling on Pakistan to 'agree a plan to deliver education for every child.'

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