By Chris Crowstaff, Safeworld founder, September 2012
On Friday 7th September, a girls school was blown up in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province in northern Pakistan.
Two days later, another girls school was destroyed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), also in northern Pakistan, about 100 miles east of the previous attack.
School buildings in KPK and FATA have been specifically targeted over the last five years. And girl’s schools have been a prime target.
Just last year, 440 schools were reportedly destroyed by militants, out of which 130 were girl’s schools.
It is extremely difficult to get accurate information. It is not a safe region for human rights workers, NGOs or journalists. Reports which do come out get very limited coverage. The region also seems to be largely neglected by the Pakistan government and the United Nations.
In the last five years, militants have intensified activities in KPK and FATA. In 2011, 569 reportedly people died in terrorism related attacks in KPK, and 1,319 injured. In the same year in FATA, 494 people were killed and 720 injured. Civilians, including children, continue to face the brunt of the conflict in this region.
'First they warned owners of private schools to end co-education. Then they told the government’s girls’ schools to close. When they refused, the Taliban bombed several of them and the rest of the schools were closed for fear of bombing. At the same time, parents also stopped sending their children to schools for fear of the Taliban.'
Amnesty International report - 2010
A UN report from April this year highlights the ongoing situation:
'Throughout the year , schools continued to be directly targeted by armed groups in bomb and improvised explosive device attacks, resulting in 152 incidents of partial or complete destruction of school facilities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. According to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas Department of Education, a total number of 73 schools were damaged in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, with the remainder occurring in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.''
It is difficult to imagine what living in such a conflict ridden area of the world would be like, And this is part of the problem.
Because it is unsafe for journalists to visit, there is no mainstream media coverage. We do not get to see the reality on our television screens. We do not see the effect this has on the children.
And so what do we do? Do we continue to ignore the problem?
In recent months, thousands of families - mainly women and children, have fled. Many walk for days. Some are staying in crowded refugee camps and many others are staying with extended families that are very poor themselves and struggling to survive.
Many of the displaced children are still not going to school.
And the numbers are rising as the tension continues.
This is a crisis which needs to be talked about and tackled. It has been going on for too long with no apparent solution in sight.
Women and children fleeing violence are extremely vulnerable. Many children will have witnessed their homes being destroyed. When families flee, they often leave with very few belongings. The children have witnessed scenes of destruction and are in need of specialist help to recover.
It is extremely hard to know the true situation. Locals who speak out are targeted and threatened. And these are not empty threats - as shown by the recent shocking murder of women's rights activist Farida Afridi.
For certain there is a very real crisis, and the international community needs to break the silence - urgently.