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Boys' education slides in Helmand

A school class in the open air of Helmand Province.
(Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN)

More than 30,000 pupils who attended schools in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan last year have been absent in 2007, the provincial department of education told IRIN. About 102,700 students attended school in 2006, fewer than 14 percent of them girls.

[Read this story in Arabic]

“This year we have 70,000 students in 90 functioning schools in Helmand province,” said Saeed Ibrar Agha, head of the provincial education department.

While schooling started on 10 September in southern Afghanistan, education facilities have remained closed in several districts in Helmand, which has been severely affected by the insurgency, including Sangin, Gereshk and Musa Qala, according to education authorities.

In 2002, less than a year after the Taliban were toppled, there were 224 functioning schools all over the province, officials said.

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Insecurity deprives thousands of students of food
Civilians complain about impact of fighting on their lives
Girls fear to go to school after shooting incident
Thousands of child labourers in eastern province deprived of education
 Lack of classrooms causes heat exhaustion

For the past 15 months, gunmen associated with Taliban insurgents and other armed radical groups have torched more than 20 schools and killed 17 students, teachers and staff, Ibrar Agha added. “In several districts 98 schools remain closed due to insecurity.”

Female students increase

Ironically, numbers of female students have steadily increased, with 14,500 now against 12,228 in 2006, government statistics show.

As more rural families flock to Lashkargah, the provincial capital, because of insurgency-related violence and search for employment, female children get more chances to attend school.

Moreover, a World Food Programme (WFP) project designed to boost girls’ education urges destitute families to send their daughters to school and receive aid in return. WFP distributes cooking oil, wheat and fortified biscuits to schoolchildren in food-insecure provinces of Afghanistan, a WFP spokesman said.


Photo: Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN
Thousands of schools in Afghanistan do not have any building structure and lack water and sanitation facilities

The Taliban banned female schooling during their reign from 1996 to late 2001.
Soft targets

About 400 schools remain out of commission in the south, east and central part of the country due to violence, the Ministry of Education (MoE) said.

A 13-year-old student was reportedly shot dead on his way to Zokur high school in Lashkargah in February 2007.

Four days later armed assailants started shooting indiscriminately outside Karte Laghan School, killing a student and a gatekeeper, officials said.

“Men identifying themselves as Taliban regularly send me warnings by phone, night letters and other ways ordering me to quit my job,” Jamila Niazi, headmistress of a girls’ high school in Lashkargah, told IRIN.

Taliban threat letter


Photo: Akmal Dawi/IRIN
Verbatim translation:

In the name of Allah
Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
Jihadi Command Front

Declaration

All Mujahideen and Taliban are hereby instructed to attack those hypocrites and superficial Muslims who collaborate with American invaders and enemies of Sharia. Those that teach lessons of Christianity and blasphemy to Muslim children in fact attack Islam and want to weaken Muslim ranks. Mujahideen and Taliban must not allow the puppets of blasphemers to damage Muslims’ belief. Those who gave American books and lessons to children must be given a severe penalty. Mujahideen should also advise people to avoid sending their children to such hypocrital places.

Allah’s victory is imminent.
Peace and regards be to Muslims and victory be to Mujahideen
Reliant on Allah Mujahid Mullah Mansoor Dadullah Akhund

Taliban rebels and other anti-government forces have repeatedly targeted schools and teachers as symbols of the government - often the only sign of officialdom in rural areas.

Influx to Lashkargah

Owing to deteriorating security, more and more boys come to Lashkargah in search of education. Officials in Helmand’s education department say the influx is beyond the capacity of only 27 schools open in the city.

The headmaster of Zokur high school, Shadi Khan Ilham, said: “Every day tens of students seek admission in this school.” It has admitted more than 800 students from several districts in the past 10 months alone, Ilham added.

Half of all provincial students - 35,000 - attend schools in Lashkargah city, officials say.

As a result, classes are being held in the open, where students sit on the ground, either sweating in hot weather or shivering in the cold.

Overwhelmed by hundreds of extra learners, many schools in Helmand also lack proper water and sanitation facilities.

Teachers and other school staff, meanwhile, complain about numerous problems, particularly low salaries. On average, teachers earn about US$60 a month, according to the ministry.

Even so, said Ilham: “We are happy to teach students even under worse circumstances, only if security is ensured.”

Hardship

Students who stay in rented rooms in Lashkargah say financial hurdles force them to abandon education. “My parents send me 2,000 Afghanis [$40] monthly, but I have to pay 2,500 for a single room,” said Hamidullah, a 15-year-old student from Musa Qala district.

Others face threats from Taliban insurgents and criminal gangs. On 30 September, armed Taliban men reportedly hanged a 15-year-old boy in Sangin District on charges of spying for foreign troops in Afghanistan.

“Every afternoon before departing Lashkargah I double-check my pockets and other belongings and make sure I do not carry a book, an identity card or anything which may cause Taliban’s suspicion,” said another teenager, who travels five hours daily to attend school in the provincial city.

“I fear, one day, if Taliban know that I am coming to school, they will kill me,” the boy, who cannot be identified for security reasons, told IRIN.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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