“I was just 10 when more than 400 schools [in Pakistan] were destroyed,” said Malala Yousafzai when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. “And our beautiful dreams turned into nightmares. Education went from being a right to being a crime. Girls were stopped from going to school.”
As documented in a recent Human Rights Watch report, militant groups have continued to attack students and schools in Pakistan, with devastating consequences on the right to education for thousands of children.
The Pakistan Taliban is behind many of these horrendous attacks, but the government is also failing to take steps to stop or mitigate them. For instance, the government does not document school attacks, so there is no monitoring whether the authorities repair or rebuild attacked schools, or help terrorized students. There are barely any credible prosecutions of the perpetrators of attacks, so the militants face little deterrence. And Pakistan security forces complicate matters by using schools as military bases, turning them into targets.
In mid-June, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will review Pakistan’s human rights record, including the right to education. The committee has previously recommended that schools should be adequately protected from attacks and everyone should be able to access education during armed conflict. Based on the evidence submitted, the committee can be expected to focus on attacks on education during the review, and recommend steps Pakistan needs to take to better protect education.
There is something concrete Pakistan could do right now: join the 65 other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international political commitment that supports the protection of education during wartime. Countries that join the declaration agree to deter attacks by investigating and prosecuting war crimes involving schools, and to minimize the military use of schools, such as for barracks or weapons depots, so that schools do not become targets of attack.
It should be an easy choice for Pakistan.
In two weeks, Pakistani officials could be grilled about the devastating impact armed conflict is having on education and the lack of government response. Or, Pakistan could endorse the Safe Schools Declaration now, and be recognized for committing to common sense measures to protect children.
The children of Pakistan deserve nothing less.