Punjab tightens school security amid terrorism fears

By Amna Nasir Jamal

Lahore fourth-graders are pictured November 6. The Punjab  provincial government is tightening school security after increasing demands from parents and schoolteachers. [Amna Nasir Jamal]

Lahore fourth-graders are pictured November 6. The Punjab  provincial government is tightening school security after increasing demands from parents and schoolteachers. [Amna Nasir Jamal]

LAHORE -- Punjab Province public schools are set to benefit from the hiring of more than 4,000 security guards, according to Punjab Secretary of Education Abdul Jabbar Shaheen.

Increased school security has been a long-standing demand of parents and schoolteachers, he said.

These fears gained momentum after Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) gunmen stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, killing 141 people, mostly schoolchildren.

Reports of militants kidnapping children on their way to and from school, for ransom or for use in suicide bombings, further ignited parents' fears and sparked their demands for the government to protect their children.

"Parents were worried about the security of their children," Shaheen told Pakistan Forward.

"On the proposal of the Punjab School Education Department, the Finance Department has approved the creation of 4,120 new posts [for security guards]," he said.

In the first phase, the new guards will be deployed to B-category schools, which are defined as schools in urban areas having 200 or more students. Later, hiring will be expanded to provide security in other schools.

Enhanced school security

Because of increasing public pressure on the issue, lawmakers are heightening measures to ensure safety at schools and to prevent kidnapping.

Last August, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah directed school administrations to make sure that security guards escort school vans and that police monitor vans transporting children to and from school.

"The government is taking measures to increase student safety and physical security and to increase liaisons with law enforcement and private security agencies," Shaheen said.

Pakistan's largest province has 52,314 public schools, according to the provincial government. Each district government will pay the guards' salaries.

The exact number of private schools in Punjab is not known because many do not register with the authorities. Private school owners hire and pay their schools' guards.

Allaying parents' fears

Security in Punjab public schools has already progressed, school administrators and parents say.

"Our public school has increased its physical security in a variety of ways," said Safia Mehr, administrator of a public school of Garden Town, Lahore. "We have started to limit access to the property by locking all unmonitored entrances and requiring all visitors to check in at the main gate."

School personnel have begun conducting routine security inspections of the exterior and interior of the campus and reporting any suspicious activity to school officials or the police, she told Pakistan Forward.

"Recent kidnappings and terrorist incidents caused public concern over school security," said Sabera Sadaqat, mother of an 11-year-old boy at Central Model High School in Lower Mall, Lahore.

Before the increased security measures, parents would feel uneasy about sending their children to school, she told Pakistan Forward.

"Students feeling unsafe in their own schools are another reason why security and safety measures have recently been heightened in public schools," she said.

Concerns over students' mental health

But Dr. Nasir Saeed Khan, a psychiatrist in Lahore, expressed concerns over the increased presence of security personnel in schools.

"In reality, every child in Pakistan is aware that education is under siege," he told Pakistan Forward.

"Students in public schools are being forced to conform to many new rules and regulations, which diminish students' academic performance," he said. "Students may think that an overly controlled environment has taken away their creativity, individualism and intellectual development."

In addition, children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing terrorist attacks or other terrifying events need extra psychological help, not just enhanced security measures, he said.

Khan suggested increasing training opportunities for health and mental health professionals on how to screen, identify and refer children in need of mental health services after a disaster or terrorist event.

Increased security 'unavoidable'

"As public school systems continue to fear terrorism, an increase in security is unavoidable," said Muzaffar, Station House Officer, Garden Town.

"The presence of law enforcement officers and private security personnel is rapidly increasing in public schools," he told Pakistan Forward. "Twenty-three percent of schools reported having police or security personnel stationed 6 to 7 hours or more per day at the school."

Police and private security guards perform various tasks, such as patrolling school grounds, assisting with investigations of school staff and conducting searches, among other duties, he said.

"School officials should identify the specific problems that are taking place at their school and determine how to rationally address them before they implement security measures," he said.

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