Attacks deprive 300,000 students of education
KANDAHAR, 22 September 2008 (IRIN) - Zulaikha, 14,
was the top student in her class last year but has
been unable to attend school this year because of
increased attacks on schools, rampant insecurity and
threats to students and their families.
"I wanted to become a doctor and treat poor and ill
people," she told IRIN at her home in the outskirts of
Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan.
Taliban insurgents oppose female education and work
and have frequently torched schools, killed school
employees and circulated letters warning parents not
to send their children, particularly girls, to school.
"We don't object to our daughter's education but we
also don't want her to be killed on the way to school
or her family members killed because of her going to
school," said Zulaikha's father, Abdul Rahman.
Afghanistan has made impressive progress in primary
and secondary education since the downfall of the
Taliban regime in late 2001.
At least 3,500 schools have been built since 2002
and hundreds more are planned. More than six million
students, about 30 percent girls, are enrolled in
11,000 schools across the country, compared with about
one million boys only in 2000, according to the
Ministry of Education (MoE).
However, resurgent Taliban and worsening security
have put the country's hard-won educational
achievements at serious risk.
More than 600 primary, secondary and high schools
are closed, mostly in the volatile southern provinces,
because of prevalent insecurity and attacks on formal
education, the MoE said.
"In 45 districts of 12 provinces about 610-620
schools have been closed," Hamid Elmi, a spokesman for
the MoE, told IRIN, adding that efforts were under way
to re-open some schools through community support.
Most of the closures are in the four southern
provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Urozgan,
where the conflict is having a greater effect than
elsewhere. "Up to 80 percent of schools are closed in
these four provinces," Elmi said.
In the worst-affected Helmand Province, only 54
schools, primarily for boys, are functioning, against
223 schools that were open in 2002, according to MoE
Consequently, more than 300,000 students have been
deprived of an education in 12 provinces, according to
The MoE said 99 schools have been attacked, torched
and/or destroyed by armed assailants this year and 117
similar cases were reported in 2007.
Dozens of students, some as young as seven, and
teachers have been killed or injured by armed
assailants over the past two years.
Armed men associated with Taliban insurgents
reportedly cut off the ears of a teacher in Zabul
Province on 14 September as a sign of punishment to
those who support education.
In addition, Taliban insurgents in August
reportedly attacked trucks carrying textbooks from
Kabul to Kandahar province and burnt tens of thousands
of books, the MoE said.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yosuf Ahmadi,
denied the insurgents' involvement in attacks on
schools and students.
"Our Mujahideen have not attacked schools and
schoolchildren," Ahmadi told IRIN via telephone from
an unidentified location.
"Criminals - whom the government cannot stop - are
carrying out such attacks," he said.
The Taliban imposed a strict ban on females'
education and employment and enforced an Islamic
curriculum for boys during their reign (1996-2001).
IRIN last year received a warning letter ostensibly
issued by the Taliban [http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=74690]
in which attacks on schools and students were
The government blamed the Taliban for attacks on
educational facilities and school employees.
"The Taliban are attacking everything related to
education because they need illiterate youths to join
their ranks," Elmi of the MoE said.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.