QUETTA  - Thousands of women, children and activists marched in Pakistan's volatile province of Balochistan on Wednesday in a protest against a “campaign by an extremist group of forcefully shuting down schools across the region”.

Allegedly, Tanzeemul Islamul Furqan (Organisation of Islam for the Quran), a little-known group that has been setting schools on fire and distributing threatening leaflets against girls and Western-style education in Balochistan.

"At least 35 private schools and 30 language centres have been shut down in the districts of Panjgur and Turbat for well over a week, but government schools are open," Muhammad Ayub, a local education official, told Reuters.

"Apparently they have been allowed to function because their enrolment of female students is very small."

It is rare for women to take part in public rallies in the traditional tribal society of Balochistan, but on Wednesday, thousands of them marched alongside school children and political activists to appeal for better security at schools.

Zahid Hussain Baluch said he was forced to close his school in Panjgur district on April 26 after receiving threats by telephone as well as menacing leaflets. Two days later, the militants attacked two schools in a nearby area, setting them on fire, he said.

"Later leaflets inscribed with the name of Tanzeemul Islamul Furqan were distributed in two districts calling for the closure of all schools and warning that violators will be shot dead," Baluch said.

Another school teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added: "It's a new phenomenon here. Locals have never been opposed to girls' education."