Protecting Malalas Around the World from Attacks

Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, November 10, 2012

The shooting of 15 year-old education advocate Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban, has drawn the world’s attention to the battle that girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley face each day to do what other children take for granted – to go to school. Unfortunately, this situation is not limited to Pakistan. In conflicts across the globe – in some 30 countries across four continents since 2007 – students, teachers, schools, and universities have been targeted as a tactic of war. They have been killed, injured, raped, and abducted, while the buildings they study in have been bombed, burned, and looted, and their books and learning materials destroyed.

In addition, armed forces and armed groups often use schools for military purposes – as bases, barracks, detention facilities, torture centers, recruitment sites, and munitions caches. Indeed, at the same time as the Taliban was threatening Malala’s school, it was, for a period, being used by the Pakistani army. Military use can convert a school or university into a legitimate military target under international law, placing students and educators at risk of reprisal from opposition forces. Death, injury, and psychological distress are possible outcomes. So too are heightened drop-out rates, lower enrollment, and disruptions to education that students may never recover from, thwarting individual dreams, and dooming communities’ social and economic development.

Malala Yousafzai showed tremendous courage and conviction in speaking up for the right to learn in the midst of violence and discrimination. Thousands of other students in countries around the world show similar daring each day by simply setting out to school. Thousands more never get the chance because their schools have been ravaged or are occupied by militaries.

On the Global Day of Action for Malala, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) calls on governments, non-state armed groups, and international and local organizations and education actors to take bold action of their own to ensure that the violence of the battlefield is not played out in the schoolyard. More specifically, we recommend the following:

  • States, local organizations, and relevant international agencies should rigorously monitor attacks on education and use that data to inform responses.
  • Relevant ministries and education actors should put in place preventive measures and rapid response systems and adopt and implement best practices to protect education from attack.
  • States should ensure that their domestic legislation criminalizes all elements of attacks on education in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.
  • Leaders of governments and non-state armed groups should issue clear military orders and institute policies, formalized in military training manuals and rules of engagement, which prohibit or minimize the use of education institutions for military purposes.

GCPEA’s Steering Committee is comprised of seven international organizations: Education Above All, Human Rights Watch, the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, Save the Children International, UNESCO, UNHCR, and UNICEF.

For further information on where attacks on education and military use of schools are occurring around the world, please

visit https://www.protectingeducation.org/country/afghanistan