LONDON – Why is it that schools and schoolchildren have become such high-profile targets for murderous Islamist militants? The 147 students killed in an attack by the extremist group Al-Shabab at a college close to Kenya’s border with Somalia are only the latest victims in a succession of outrages in which educational institutions have been singled out for attack.
Last December, in Peshawar, Pakistan, seven Taliban gunmen strode from classroom to classroom in the Army Pubic School, executing 145 children and teachers. More recently, as more than 80 pupils in South Sudan were taking their annual exams, fighters invaded their school and kidnapped them at gunpoint. Their fate has been to join the estimated 12,000 students conscripted into children’s militias in the country’s escalating civil war.
Every day, another once-vibrant Syrian school is bombed or militarized, with two million children now in refugee camps or exiled to makeshift tents or huts. And next week will mark the first anniversary of the extremist group Boko Haram’s night-time abduction of 276 schoolgirls from their dormitories in Chibok, in Nigeria’s northern Borno state. With continued assaults on local schools, Boko Haram has escalated its war against education – making the last two years Nigeria’s worst in terms of the violation of children’s rights.
In the past five years, there have been nearly 10,000 attacks on schools and educational establishments. Why is it that schools, which should be recognized as safe havens, have become instruments of war, and schoolchildren have become pawns in extremists’ strategies? And why have such attacks been treated so casually – the February abduction in South Sudan elicited barely any international comment – when they in fact constitute crimes against humanity.