According to IRIN (the Integrated Regional Information Networks of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)), more than 30,000 pupils attending school in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan last year were absent in 2007. This represents a reduction of more than 30% in school attendance:
“This year we have 70,000 students in 90 functioning schools in Helmand province,” said Saeed Ibrar Agha, head of the provincial education department.
In 2002, less than a year after the Taliban were toppled, there were 224 functioning schools all over the province .”
Insecurity explains why most schools are shuttered in the Helmand province. In the past 15 months, according to Saeed Ibrar Agha, Taliban insurgents and other armed groups targeting schools as symbols of the government have burned down more than 20 schools and killed 17 students, teachers and other staff.
The deterioration of security conditions has led to a flow of children to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. Today, half of all provincial pupils (i.e. 35,000 children) are to be found in Lashkar Gar. The 27 schools open in the city have been unable to keep pace with demand and some classes have to be held in the open.
To end on a positive note, the number of female students – who were denied the right to attend school under the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001 – has increased from 12,228 in 2006 (12%) to 14,500 in 2007 (21%) in the Helmand province. This is important. As a 2006 Human Rights Watch report observed, increasing females’ access to education not only benefits girls and women, but also the country’s development:
“It is now well-established that increasing girls’ and women’s access to education improves maternal and child health, improves their own children’s access to education, and promotes economic growth. For example, research has shown that an additional year of school for girls can reduce infant mortality by 5 to 10 percent, and that reducing the gender gap in education increases per capita income growth. Indeed, studies have found greater returns through higher wages on school investments for girls than for boys, particularly for secondary education.”
AFGHANISTAN: Boys' education slides in Helmand, IRIN’s report, 8 October 2007, available online at http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=74690 .
Human Rights Watch, Education in Afghanistan and its Importance for Development in Lessons in Terror: Attacks on Education in Afghanistan, July 2006, available online at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/afghanistan0706/3.htm.
Photo by Jim Birt retrieved from Flickr: brightly coloured burqas worn by Afghan girls on their way to school in Gereshk, Helmand Province (Afghanistan, May 2007).