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School security affects youngsters emotionally
Psychiatrist says extra security at schools and other places causes stress for schoolchildren
By Hasan Khan
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - “Papa why they are searching my school bag,” my 5-year-old son Shahzeb asked as he looked at the armed security guards using metal detectors to check each bag hanging on the backs of children entering the school.
“I know, Papa, they are looking for bombs” he said triumphantly after finding me speechless in response to his question. His answer was more shocking than the question as he was too young to be talking about bombs.
But that is the reality in which Pakistan finds itself today.
After the launch of military operations in South Waziristan and a deadly suicide attack on Islamic International University Islamabad, most educational institutions were closed because of the fear of terrorist and suicide attacks.
At the Islamic University Islamabad about 10 female students and a guard were killed and many others were injured when a suicide bomber blew up in front of a cafeteria during a lunch break.
After a one-week break the government allowed educational institutions to reopen but issued strict written instructions to the management to take adequate security steps.
So all educational institutions hired security guards equipped with electronic gadgets, installed CCTV cameras and security gates at school entrances.
“This (bag and child) searching is terribly affecting the tender minds of children,” said Nadeem, whose 4-year-old daughter is studying in the Montessori section of a school.
“This was really unthinkable that the situation would reach … such a level where minor children could be the likely targets of terrorist attacks”, Nadeem said as he watched his daughter pass through the security gates to the school.
“This searching of school children by armed men at the gates is really depressing but is unavoidable,” says Ali Anwar, principal of City School Capital Campus Islamabad. City Schools is the leading chain of private schools in Pakistan having campuses across the country.
Anwar said he personally opposes having armed guards welcome children to school every morning. “But life is more important than mental stress which a child might suffer due to checking by armed guards”, Anwar said.
“It doesn’t look to be a school, but an Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters”, Anwar said he overheard one student telling another while passing through security checks.
Anwar said the government has issued written instructions to the schools’ leaders to ensure extra security measures are in place. All schools have fenced their boundaries.
A leading politician and secretary general of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), Iqbal Zafar Jaghra, said he had stopped his grandchildren from going to schools. “Guards and fences can’t stop these hardened terrorists from targeting schools,” Jaghra said.
“When children go to schools their parents are waiting anxiously for their safe return,’ he said.
Along with regular checks at school entrances, the children in Islamabad have to pass through the heavily armed police officers standing at dozens of security check posts on city streets. School vans are stopped daily at security check posts on the way to school and they are searched for suspected explosives.
Islamabad police check vehicles and passersby randomly.
“Police have established 80 to 90 additional police posts on the roads and streets”, said Hakim Khan, a senior officer with the capital police. He said because of threats of terrorist attacks and suicide bombers, most of the check posts are on roads entering the city or leading to the red zone.
The Islamabad red zone houses the parliament house, embassies and other governmental buildings.
The head of the psychiatry department at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Science (PIMS), Professor Rizwan Taj said the security at schools and other places causes mental stress among the schoolchildren.
The protection of students’ lives is the prime obligation, however, there is a need for counseling, particularly for children in early grades before exposing them to regular checks, Taj said.
Taj said exposing young children to security, armed guards and bag searches without proper counseling can cause behavioral changes and can sometimes lead to sleeping disorders.
According to Taj, the number of psychiatric patients, particularly among the young, has increased phenomenally. Nobody feels safe at places like schools, mosques, markets and even at homes, he said.
“I will advise the parents and teachers to counsel their children and students and take them into confidence prior exposing them to necessary security checkups,” Taj said.