LONDON – People are outraged – and rightly so. In just 24 hours, nearly one million people have signed a petition honoring the memory of the 132 children killed by militant extremists in Peshawar. Their call for every child in the world to be able to attend school safely has already been heard by political leaders in Pakistan and far beyond.
Among the signatories to the petition, organized by the groups A World at School and Avaaz, are children’s rights activists, such as Malala Yousafzai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and political leaders, including the entire cabinet of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The violence in Pakistan is the latest example of what is becoming a horrific pattern: armed men using schoolchildren as pawns in their conflicts, turning access to education into a weapon of war. On December 17, just one day after the Peshawar massacre, yet another 100 children were kidnapped in Nigeria – allegedly by gunmen from Boko Haram, a terrorist group whose very name means “Western education is forbidden.” The latest assault took place only 30 miles from the village of Chibok, where the Islamist militants shocked the world by abducting more than 200 Nigerian girls in April.
Schools – which should be safe havens – have instead become targets for terrorist groups hoping that their horrific massacres will be reported around the world. In the past five years, there have been more than 10,000 attacks on schools and schoolchildren. On the same day that Islamist militants were shooting schoolboys in Pakistan, terrorists murdered 15 Yemeni children on a school bus. In Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria, at least 1,000 schools and colleges have been bombed or raided. In the aftermath of the attacks, the schools are usually closed, with the students left to roam the streets.