This morning, I awoke to images of the same school uniform I wore as a kid cloaking dead and bloodied children. The Pakistani Taliban had attacked an Army Public School branch in Peshawar in northwest Pakistan and executed one of the most cold-blooded massacres in recent memory, killing more than 100 children. I spent my childhood moving from one Pakistani city to another as my parents, both members of the Pakistani military, changed postings. Everywhere I went, I found Army Public Schools willing to accept me—five in total.
I spent the rest of Tuesday numb, standing silently in a stairwell at one point as my mother cried for 10 minutes on the other end of the phone. A colleague at Children’s Hospital in Boston sent me an email saying, “I was sitting in our Cardiac Medical-Surgical Conference this morning, discussing cases of complex heart disease and contemplating the fact that we devote prodigious human and financial resources to saving the life of one child while others somehow see fit to kill children at random.” One by one, all of the profile pictures of my friends on Facebook went black. “The smallest coffins are the heaviest,” many wrote.
Tuesday’s horror caps what UNICEF had already called one of the worst years in history for children. “Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such unspeakable brutality,” Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director, recently observed. He was referring to the findings of a UNICEF report showing that 230 million children currently live in countries afflicted by armed conflict. In the latest Gaza war, 538 children were killed and thousands more injured and orphaned; in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, millions are internally or externally displaced; in Nigeria, Boko Haram infamously kidnapped more than 200 school-going girls. Children have also been battered by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, with millions more unable to continue their education because of it.