Taliban forces students out of schools into
LASHKARGAH, 17 February 2009 (IRIN) - The closure
of schools and continuing attacks on students in the
southern Helmand Province forced Abdul Wakil's parents
to send him to a madrasa (Islamic school) in
Almost two months later, Abdul Wakil [not his real
name] quit the school outside Quetta, capital of
Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, and returned home.
"In the madrasa we were taught to sacrifice
ourselves for Jihad in Afghanistan and were told to do
suicide attacks," the 14-year-old told IRIN in
Lashkargah, centre of Afghanistan's insurgency-torn
"I don't want to be a suicide attacker, because
it's forbidden in Islam, so I secretly quit the
madrasa and returned home," the teenager said.
Abdul's parents are happy to have their son safe
but are extremely concerned about his security.
"If the Taliban find out about him, they will kill
him," said his father, who requested anonymity. "We
are also concerned about his education and his
future," he said.
His concerns are not unique in the volatile south,
where attacks by insurgent groups have closed more
than 630 schools, depriving 300,000 students of an
education, according to the Ministry of Education (MoE).
Poor literacy rates
More than two decades of war have severely damaged
education in Afghanistan, resulting in very low
literacy rates: 12.6 percent among females and 43.1
percent among males, an average of 28.1 percent
nationwide, according to aid agencies.
The insurgents' anti-education activities - armed
attacks, intimidation and negative propaganda - seek
to shut down schools and deny students - girls and
boys - a formal education that mixes modern scientific
subjects with Islamic studies.
From January to October 2008, 256 school-related
security incidents, with 30 deaths, were reported,
against 213 incidents in the same period in 2007,
according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).
As a result, going to school has become
increasingly dangerous for students and teachers.
However, the insurgents have tacitly encouraged
parents to send their sons to religious schools in
neighbouring Pakistan for Islamic studies.
"Pakistani madrasas brainwash students and teach
them religious extremism, armed Jihad and hatred
against the government in Afghanistan and the West,"
said Gulab Mangal, Helmand's governor.
Almost all Taliban leaders, including their
reclusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, were trained in
Madrasas not only offer immunity from Taliban
attacks but also provide free board and lodging to
students and are thus more attractive to poor families
than modern schools.
Tens of thousands of Afghan citizens are enrolled
in Pakistani madrasas, MoE officials estimate.
The government has recently enhanced efforts to
protect schools and schoolchildren from Taliban
Asif Nang, a spokesman for the MoE, told IRIN the
government was ready to negotiate with the opposition
over schools and would be willing to accommodate their
"If they want to call schools 'madrasa' we will
accept that, if they want to say Mullah to a teacher
we have no problem with that. Whatever objections they
[the Taliban] may have we are ready to talk to them,"
The MoE also emphasised that its curriculum was
entirely in accordance with Islamic values and girls
were required to comply with Islamic dressing codes
(including wearing the hijab) to school.
Owing to this appeasing approach, the government
has reopened 24 schools in Helmand, Ghazni and
Kandahar provinces previously shut by insurgents.
"We aim to reopen all the schools which are closed
because of insecurity," assured Farooq Wardak, the
education minister, adding that hundreds of new
schools would be built in 2009.
However, none of the 16 schools reopened in Helmand
over the past three months catered for girls, the MoE
said, a severe blow for already low female literacy
Of six million students, 35 percent are female,
while more than 1.2 million school-age girls do not
attend school, according to UNICEF and Care
In addition to insecurity, conservative traditions
and other prevalent gender inequity norms,
particularly in the south and south-east, impede
girls' access to education.
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.