[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Sun, 3 Jan 1999 00:16:58 -0600 (CST)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: CHILDREN: Afghan Schools on Verge of Collapse
Article: 51292
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.118.19990104121620@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 519.0 **/
** Topic: CHILDREN: Afghan Schools on Verge of Collapse **
** Written 2:42 PM Jan 1, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Afghan Schools on Verge of Collapse

By Thalif Deen, IPS, 29 December 1998

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 (IPS) - Afghanistan's educational system, battered by nearly 20 years of warfare, is on the verge of collapse, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Tuesday.

Worse still, said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, there is no indication there can be any improvement.

Under the present rigidly Islamic Taliban regime, Afghanistan has virtually barred girls from schools and female teachers from working. The fact remains that the large majority of Afghan children, especially girls, are deprived of educational opportunities, Bellamy said.

This is all the more tragic, considering the high demand for education among Afghans. In Pakistan and Iran, Afghan refugees eagerly seek educational opportunities for their children.

Net primary school attendance in Afghanistan between 1992 and 1997 comprised 36 percent of the school-going boys but only 11 percent of girls. The adult literacy rate is 47 percent for men and 15 percent for women, according to the latest statistics released by UNICEF.

Bellamy argued that, while there always had been a wide gender gap in education in Afghanistan, this had been exacerbated and institutionalised as a result of edicts issued by Taliban authorities banning girls from attending formal schools and female teachers from working.

The edicts contravened the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Bellamy said. Afghanistan ratified the CRC in 1994 and signed CEDAW in 1984.

Last year UNICEF stopped providing educational materials and teacher training to formal schools operated by the Department of Education. But it continued to work with education authorities in few of the areas in Afghanistan which remain outside Taliban rule.

Besides seeking a resolution to the political problem, the United Nations has kept up a dialogue with the Taliban authorities on the issue of gender equity in education. As a result, the world body signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Taliban in May this year. The memorandum, among other points, declared that men and women shall have the right to education.

These words, however, have yet to be put into practice, Bellamy said. There is simply no way that Afghanistan can meet the multiple challenges of the 21st century unless it begins to uphold the right of all its citizens to basic education.

Af a visit to the politically-troubled South Asian country last April, Bellamy said that during official talks in Kabul she had insisted that the Taliban lifted all restrictions on the movement of women working in Afghanistan.

Mullah Mohammed Rabbani, chairman of the Taliban Supreme Shura, asked Bellamy for understanding of their customs, and at the same time, stressed that Western ideas could not be imposed upon them.

I told them I was representing the United Nations, and we were not advocating a Western model, or any particular model they should adopt, Bellamy said. The U.N. message is not a Western message.

The UNICEF head told Taliban authorities that she knew of no country, including other Islamic nations, where girls officially were denied access to education.

Bellamy said that while UNICEF and other agencies - including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) - continued providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, UNICEF had suspended its education assistance programme.

It would be re-started should there be any move on the part of the Taliban authorities to include the participation of girls in formal schools, she added. Currently, UNICEF has a 12 million dollar programme in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan appeared also to have reached the political point of no return. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said recently that it had become increasingly difficult to justify the continuation of U.N. peace efforts and the attendant costs in the absence of any positive signs of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Annan labelled the Afghan conflict a seemingly endless tragedy of epic proportions, and he painted a grim picture of the ongoing large-scale fighting in the hapless country.

The Afghan civil war is between the Taliban and the five-party Northern Alliance, formally known as the Islamic and National Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan.

In a report to the Security Council, Annan said that a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan remains elusive notwithstanding the untiring efforts of the United Nations to broker peace among the country's warring factions.

The people's yearning for peace in Afghanistan is being systematically and continually betrayed by leaders and warlords driven by selfish ambitions and thirst for power, he said in one of the most pessimisstic reports on the situation in Afghanistan.