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Safety fears mean many Afghan girls miss school

Written by: Staff

Kabul, Mar 25: About half of all Afghan girls of primary school age are not going to classes, partly because parents fear for their safety after a wave of attacks on schools and their staff, according to a UN official.

During Taliban rule, when girls were banned from school, the only chance they had of getting some education was in small, secret classes in people's homes. Such schools could be an important way of getting girls into school now.

''The most important thing now is to have all children in school, that's very important for the development of the country,'' said Rima Salah, deputy executive director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

More than four years after US and Afghan opposition troops ousted the hardline Taliban the Islamists are still waging an insurgency, particularly in the south and east, and schools are a favourite target.

There have been 30 serious attacks on schools in the past six months that have resulted in the death of six people, five staff and one student.

The US Agency for International Development said this month security fears had forced the closure of 200 schools in the southern province of Kandahar and 165 in neighbouring Helmand province.

UNICEF is promoting the idea of small, so-called community schools, not just because of the Taliban threat but because many Afghan parents worry about sending girls to school, even in peaceful parts of the country.

''Families need to know that their children, girls particularly, are secure. A school should be a safe haven, that is what we are aiming for,'' Salah told Reuters yesterday.

''That is why we are talking a lot about community schools, where the communities feel they own the schools.

''They don't have to be very visible, they could be invisible, they could be in homes, they don't have to have a flag,'' she said.

''The most important thing is the security of children.'' Despite the security worries, Salah said much progress had been achieved in Afghanistan over the past four years.

Up to six million children have just started the new academic year, although about two million who should be going to school are not, she said.

Many schools also face shortages of teachers, women teachers in particular, and materials, she said.


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