(London, March 27, 2017) – Attacks by the Taliban and other militant groups are having a devastating impact on education in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released a day before the Second International Conference on Safe Schools in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Pakistan faces significant education challenges, with an estimated 25 million children out of school. The report includes testimonies on how militant violence has disrupted the education of hundreds of thousands of children, particularly girls. The report also documents instances of military use of educational institutions.
“The Taliban and other militants have repeatedly committed horrific attacks on Pakistani schools, depriving students of their lives as well as their educations,” said Bede Sheppard, child rights deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “These audacious attacks often occur because, too often, authorities have protected militants or failed to properly prosecute them, and this needs to change.”
The Pakistani government should take urgent steps to make schools safer, and fairly prosecute those responsible for attacks against schools, students, and teachers, Human Rights Watch said.
The 71-page report, “Dreams Turned into Nightmares: Attacks on Students, Teachers, and Schools in Pakistan,” is based on 48 interviews with teachers, students, parents, and school administrators in the Pakistani provinces of Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). It documents attacks by militants from January 2007 to October 2016 that have destroyed school buildings, targeted teachers and students, and terrorized parents into keeping their children out of school. These attacks have often been directed at female students and their teachers and schools, blocking girls’ access to education. The report also examines occupation of educational institutions by security forces, political groups, and criminal gangs.
Pakistan’s militant Islamist groups, including the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and their affiliates, use attacks on schools and universities to foster intolerance and exclusion, to target symbols of the government, and particularly to drive girls out of school. A Taliban commander claiming the attack on Bacha Khan University in KP in January 2016 said, “We will continue to attack schools, colleges, and universities across Pakistan as these are the foundations that produce apostates.”
After the Taliban took over large parts of the Swat Valley in KP in 2007, they began a violent campaign against education for girls. Over 900 girls schools were forced to close and over 120,000 girls stopped attending school. About 8,000 female teachers were driven out of work. For many girls, the loss was permanent and they did not return to school even after the Pakistan army had displaced the Taliban.
The Pakistani government does not collect specific data on the number of attacks on schools and universities, or the number of deaths and injuries from such attacks. However, according to the Global Terrorism Database, there were 867 attacks on educational institutions in Pakistan from 2007 to 2015, resulting in 392 fatalities and 724 injuries. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack recorded at least 838 attacks on schools in Pakistan between 2009 and 2012, leaving hundreds of schools damaged. In December 2015, the Ministry for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) reported that in 2015, 360 schools were destroyed in three of the seven regions of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).