New Dimensions of Child Protection: School Terrorism Preparedness

Thursday 12 March 2015

By Asma Badar, MNCH Specialist, PDQ Health and Nutrition, Save the Children Pakistan programme

The world is changing every day. For countries like Pakistan with its peculiar geopolitical situation and extraordinary security circumstances the children’s needs in terms of health, nutrition, and protection asks for extraordinary thinking, planning and execution. The unfortunate Peshawar incident with the killing of 143 innocent school children, a monstrous act of terrorism, on 16th December 2014 jolted the world. The organizations working in child rights are caught in utter frustration asking themselves, what could have had been done to prevent this from happening? How could we make the schools a safe place for our children?

Being the mother of two, sending them to one of the armed forces schools, I went through unbearable pain and sleepless nights and my heart pondered to do something; find some doable interventions to make schools safe for our children. As a society we lack the collective wisdom, prudence and fail to pre-empt for any such situations despite knowing the fact that we have been badly affected by terrorism in the last decade. The recent incident has exposed our limited preparedness, capacity to anticipate and handle such unforeseen incidents.

In the wake of 9/11 in United States, the parents, teachers, civil society and media voiced for incorporating the terrorism preparedness in school safety and security programs.  For us in Pakistan, the recent act of terrorism calls upon the policy makers and legislatures to come up with tangible measures to respond to the need. No one-shoe-fits-all strategy will work to counter these acts. It necessitates doing threat-assessment of the schools and rating them against predefined risk criteria to take necessary measures.  The minimum school safety and security standards should be defined through extensive stakeholder consultations involving parents, communities, public health professionals, psychologists, school staff, transporters, law enforcing agencies, disaster management cells, civil engineers, local/ district  provincial governments, law makers, etc. It should be given a legal/ legislative cover so that public and private schools adhere to the standards in order to maintain their registration. School specific crisis guidelines should be developed and taught as part of the curriculum. Teachers and other staff should be trained to handle such situations. Students should be trained as part of their physical education. The negative perception of inculcating fear in children and parents through raising awareness regarding terrorism should be best managed through rational and balanced information, communication and preparation.  Well aware and prepared faculty and students act aptly in such hostile situations. Meanwhile, the environment outside schools needs special attention. The street hawkers providing unhealthy food in front of even the fanciest schools are a constant threat to safety and security as well.

 There is no overnight solution to handle this quandary but we need to start thinking and acting in the right direction without further delay. The organizations working in child rights should immediately start dialogue, provide technical assistance for developing the standards, advocate for policy change and most significantly should roll-out the minimum safety and security standards in schools being run or supported by them.  Our children are too precious to become a prey to terrorism and we need to save our children