Peshawar and the human right to education

At least 132 children and 9 staff were killed this week following a Taliban attack on the Army Public School and Degree College in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. The GMR team is dedicated to the notion that each and every child in the world should be provided with the means and opportunity to exercise his or her right to quality education in a safe, secure and respectful environment. Attacks on innocent children and on teachers who devote themselves to enabling them to learn are egregious violations of human rights.

The Right to Education

Due to destroyed classrooms, pupils in Baqir Shah village, near Shikapur, Sindh, Pakistan, must have their lessons outside with little protection from the glaring sun. Credit: UNESCO/Amima Sayeed

The attacks in Peshawar are just the latest in a series of violations of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) – The right to education – that occur in at least 30 countries worldwide due to armed conflict. The Article stipulates that:

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

The United Nations was created above all to end the ‘scourge of warfare’ and prevent a return to what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights described as ‘disregard and contempt for human rights’. Almost seventy years on, however, the scourge of armed conflict continues and it is destroying opportunities for education on a tragic scale. The human and financial costs of conflict to education are huge. We estimate that a significant proportion of all out of school children live in conflict zones all over the world. These issues are especially acute in the Asia-Pacific Region. There is an urgent need for countries to protect schools and education systems as a vital part of ensuring peace.

Conflict in Asia

Holes in the wall at a school library at Tunis public school in Beit Lahia northern Gaza strip. Credit: Eman Mohammed/UNESCO

Half of all countries in Asia are affected by local or sub-national conflict and according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, two countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan – account for more attacks on education annually than almost anywhere else in the world.

Between 2009 and 2012, there were over 838 attacks on schools in Pakistan, leaving hundreds of schools destroyed and claiming the lives of both students and teachers. The schools affected were mostly government-run, and proponents of female education are particularly at risk.

In a statement to the BBC, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Pakistani Taliban for championing girls’ rights to education, condemned the attacks in Peshawar as “atrocious and cowardly.”

“Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this,” she said.

Soldiers and children side-by-side outside a school in Jalrez in Afghanistan's Wardak province.
Soldiers and children side-by-side outside a school in Jalrez in Afghanistan’s Wardak province. Credit: CAMERA PRESS/Annabel Moeller

The attacks in Peshawar are just the latest in a series of attacks on schools this year that have shocked the world: In July and August, 148 schools were damaged and destroyed in Gaza; three attacks on United Nations-run schools killed 45 people; in Nigeria, 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped from a secondary school, more than 200 of whom are still missing; and in Syria, 20% of schools have been destroyed or damaged beyond use in the conflict.

In our 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education, we underline conflict as a major barrier towards attaining Education for All and provide recommendations for making education a force for peace.

In the wake of the attacks, we stand alongside the people of Pakistan to condemn the atrocities that took place in Peshawar on Tuesday and call on the Government of Pakistan and the international community to renew its commitment to ensuring every child’s right to education. And, most importantly, we wish all school children in the region a safe and learning-inspired school year.



  1. The need for social change is a common denominator of education that crosses geographical boundaries and cultures. Education for females may be constrained because of the contradiction with domestic obligations. How are the recommendations within the EFA Global monitoring report directly or indirectly supported by government and policy?

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