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A time of celebration has quickly descended into mourning. Just days after our sister, friend, and ally, Malala Yousafzai, became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate for daring to speak out against militant attacks on schools and for promoting the education of girls, 144 people including 132 children were massacred in the very place that was meant to be a sanctuary: their school.
We, the Youth Advocacy Group of the United Nations Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative, condemn this barbaric crime against the sanctity of learning, against our peers – the students of the Army Public School and Degree College, and against their teachers. We share in the outrage and send our condolences to the families and victims impacted by this attack.
At no time should the simple act of donning a uniform and going to school have to constitute an act of courage. Yet, after this incident of terror, survivors and children who want to be in school remain fearful of attending, and their parents fearful of sending them. This risks irreparable damage in terms of access to education and learning outcomes; consequently preventing students in conflict zones from reaching their full potential.
As news channels show images of bloodied little bodies strewn across school halls and corridors, the anger and frustration felt by young people across the world is swelling. 132 Pakistani pupils and 9 school staff, and 15 Yemeni school children were all lost in a single day because they wanted to exercise their right to learn. At the same time, 219 Nigerian schoolgirls are still missing and the lives of young people in conflict zones continue to be at risk.
Yet we, as young people, refuse to be paralyzed by outrage. We refuse to give up on our peers. We refuse to be terrorized.
Instead, we draw strength from the courage and resilience demonstrated by the survivors, the families of the victims, Malala Yousafzai, and the 28 million invisible children who live in conflict zones and are deprived of their right to education. We also draw strength from the sacrifice of Aitzaz Hassan, a Pakistani boy from Hangu District in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province, who sacrificed his life on the 6th of January 2014 while preventing a suicide bomber from entering his school of 2000 students.
Despite the hardships that so many Pakistani children face in achieving an education, their steadfast determination to go to school, and their yearning to learn, continues to fly in the face of any threat or attack.
Therefore, in solidarity with them, we demand that any remaining perpetrators of this heinous crime be swiftly brought to justice; and that world leaders take decisive action to ensure that under no circumstances do schools become grounds for terror, intimidation, and violence. We also urge that everything is done to ensure that the families of the victims, the 950 survivors, and the survivors’ families, receive the medical and psychosocial support they need in the face of this trauma.
We will not rest until all of our peers around the world can enjoy their right to go to school and learn in safety. We call on youth around the world to stand in solidarity, to mobilize and sign the #UpforSchool petition, and to send a clear message to world leaders that bullets, bombs and violence have no place in schools. We must all act to ensure that schools be preserved as safe havens for learning and teaching.
[This statement was originally published on GEFI’s website]
[Head photo: © Munish Sharma/Reuters]
The Youth Advocacy Group (YAG) consists of 18 young people from around the world who strengthen momentum and increase support for the United Nations Global Education First Initiative (GEFI). The YAG moves forward GEFI’s three main priorities – putting every child in school, improving the quality of learning, fostering global citizenship – amongst their networks and partners by: 1. Facilitating consultations with other youth in their countries, regions, and globally. 2. Providing strategic advice on the education priorities of young people. 3. Promoting the priorities and voices of young people in the advocacy messages and activities of GEFI. 4. Mobilizing young people and governments to make pledges in support of education and hold them accountable to their commitments.