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ISLAMABAD: Condemnation of attacks on schools in Gilgit-Baltistan is now growing, and the Human Rights Watch has asked the government to take urgent measures to make schools safer, and fairly prosecute those responsible for attacks against students, teachers and schools.

In a statement, the Human Rights Watch asked Pakistan to join the 80 countries that have endorsed the ‘Safe Schools Declaration’, a non-binding political agreement opened for state support at an international conference in Oslo, Norway, in May 2015.

Countries that endorse the ‘Safe Schools Declaration’ pledge to restore access to education when schools are attacked and undertake measures to make it less likely that students, teachers and schools will be attacked.

Says Pakistan should join 80 countries that have endorsed ‘Safe Schools Declaration’

They agree to deter such attacks by promising to investigate and prosecute crimes involving schools and to minimise the use of schools for military purposes so they do not become targets for attack.

Pakistan faces significant education challenges with an estimated 25 million children out of school. Militant violence has disrupted the education of hundreds of thousands of children, particularly girls. Militant Islamist groups, including the Taliban, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and their affiliates, attack schools and universities to foster intolerance and exclusion, target symbols of the government and particularly to drive girls out of school.

Human Rights Watch says militants have previously targeted girls’ schools in Diamer district. In February 2004, attackers destroyed nine schools, eight of them for girls. Explosives hit two girls’ schools in December 2011.

The nongovernmental awareness campaign Alif Ailaan reported that Diamer was the lowest-ranked district in terms of quality of education in Gilgit-Baltistan, and was among the 10 lowest ranked in the country. Only 3,479 girls are among the 16,800 students enrolled in government schools in the district which has 88 government schools for girls and 156 for boys.

The government says it does not collect specific data on attacks on schools and universities, or on 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 203 attacks on schools in Pakistan between 2013 and 2017.

The government’s failure to keep consistent and transparent national data about such attacks raises serious concerns about its ability to track repairs of damaged schools, identify

trends that could help create measures to protect schools, or investigate and prosecute those responsible, said the Human Rights Watch.

Pakistan should develop a comprehensive policy for protecting students – especially girls – as well as teachers, schools and universities from attacks and

military use, and involve all concerned ministry staff at central and local levels in carrying out this strategy, it added.

Meanwhile, Unicef Pakistan condemned the ransacking and torching of schools, most of which were girls’ schools in Diamer district. It said education was a fundamental right of every girl and boy.

Attacks on schools rob children of their basic right to education and have a devastating impact on their lives.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2018