In what has evolved into one of the greatest tragedies in the recent history of Pakistan, on Tuesday 16 December, scores were killed after a group of Taliban gunmen stormed a school in the north west of the country spreading horror and death with their guns and bombs.
According to officials, as many as 148 were killed and 80 wounded, at least 132 of them children. The attack took place when heavily armed Taliban gunmen, wearing suicide vests, entered the army public school and degree college in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. According to initial reports, the gunmen opened fire on students and took dozens hostage. Some students managed to escape the school compound hiding between the dead bodies, pretending to be among the dead.
However, this is not the first incident to involve Taliban attacks against school children in Pakistan. On 9 October 2012, Malala Yousafzai, then a 12 year old girl, boarded her school bus in the northwest Pakistani district of Swat and a gunman entered asking for her by name. A pistol was pointed at her and three shots fired. Despite being the youngest ever nobel prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai was nevertheless not well received by many in Pakistan, with the Taliban once more threating her and undermining the efforts to involve girls and children in education. In this instance, it appears they carried through their threats.
"According to the education for all global monitoring report released by Unesco in January 2014, a staggering 5.4 million children are not attending school in Pakistan"
At the same time, according to the education for all global monitoring report released by Unesco in January 2014, a staggering 5.4 million children are not attending school in Pakistan, which makes these children easy victims for religious extremists. According to the Unesco report, Pakistan has reduced its national contribution to education from 2.6 per cent of GNP in 1999 to 2.3 per cent in 2010. This points to a grim future. The report stated that if the country continued at its current pace, the adult literacy rate (aged 15 and above) will be 60 per cent - 47 per cent for females and 72 per cent for males. However, the adult illiteracy rate by 2015 is estimated at an appalling 51 million people, of which 65 per cent will be female.
This raises many questions, the most important one being the right of the children in Pakistan for their basic right of access to education and the ability of its Government to provide safe access to education. The European Union and the international community have been providing assistance to Pakistan in the form of direct funds and trade benefits, the latest being granted GSP+ status (generalised scheme of preferences), for the purpose of assisting with the development and stability.
As a form of development assistance provided by the EU, this should not be without a proper accountability mechanism that will allow Europe and the international community to assess the efficiency of the adopted measures and policies and accordingly request modifications or reinforcements where that will be necessary. There needs to be a more active role in giving the children of Pakistan the right to hope and a better future for them and their families by providing a safe path to education. The EU development and security agenda in the area should be based on these principles.