In a matter of hours, a beautiful scenery was turned into a horrendous murder scene as life was gruesomely snuffed out of more than 100 innocent children in a military run school in Pakistan. This was an act of the extremist Pakistan Taliban militants led by their elusive commander Maulana Fazlullah. This is the same person who ordered for, and almost succeeded in killing Malala Yousfzai, an eminent child rights activist and recent co-recipient of the Nobel Peace prize.
The militant leaders justified this gruesome act as revenge against enemies of Islam. One imagines how innocent children can fit in such a fundamentally flawed interpretation of a religious domination that espouses the virtue of peace. One parent shocked by the sudden change of fortune loudly wept for “my son who was in uniform in the morning he is in a casket now.”
As the world mourns and struggles to come to terms with this barbaric act, we must reflect on whether our schools here consider the security of our children while in school as a top priority. Pakistan may be hundreds of kilometres away and encumbered with deadlier terror threats than Uganda but the recent heightened spectre of terrorism in Africa by Al Qaeda and their off shoot terrorist outfits like Al Shabbab and Boko Haram show that nobody is safe.
Early this year, the organisation I work for together with some police personnel toured some selected schools to assess the security of studentsupils and levels of preparedness in case of an emergency. This was for both Government and private primary and secondary schools in the districts of Kampala, Wakiso and Mpigi. Apart from a few elite schools, the level of security laxity was alarming. In some schools, there are no perimeter walls or visible security mechanism in place.
In other schools, the fence walls were crumbling, yet no efforts were being taken to erect new ones. In one school, the headmaster admitted that defilers and petty thieves constantly harassed pupils because the school had no perimeter wall and the school main gate had been razed down. Even in the so called first world schools especially those private, although the infrastructure is modern, the security systems seemed to be obsolete. For example they lack modern communication gadgets which are essential for coordination in case of a sudden security threat like a terror attack.
There is also total lack of security cameras, scanners and modern devices around the premises to detect intrusion. The security personnel on ground in most schools are so thin and overstretched. This compromises their effectiveness.
In the face of modern terror threats that targets everyone, including little children, our schools and institutions must scale up their security systems. Precedent shows that as terrorists lose ground and personnel, they resort to cowardly and inhumane acts like targeting children and other vulnerable sections of society.
This is a diversionary tactic to incite masses against governments. Such a tactic helps also to create fear among people and media visibility that terrorists crave for. Government should now make it a policy for every school to have reasonable security within and around the school premises to secure the lives of innocent children and students.
The minimum standard could be barriers like well manned perimeter walls and main entrances. Uganda police should also establish detach units close to some of these schools for rapid response in case of emergencies like terror attacks. Enhanced security measures should not only help to deter likely threats, but can also be useful in limiting the number of fatalities in case of an attack.
Mr Oramire is a child rights aocate working with Centre for Children’s Rights.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor