By Rick Gladstone
Even with all the rising measures of mayhem in Afghanistan’s long war — civilian casualties, suicide bombings and refugees, to name a few — the number of children out of school had been falling. Until now.
A study released Monday by Unicef shows that Afghanistan’s out-of-school population has risen to 3.7 million, or 44 percent of the school-age population, compared with 3.5 million, or 40 percent of the school-age population, a few years ago.
It was the first time the number of out-of-school children in Afghanistan had risen since the ouster of the Taliban government by the American-led invasion in 2001. Under the Taliban, many schools were closed and girls were barred from attending.
The resumption of the provision of basic education in Afghanistan and the inclusion of girls have been regarded as a relative success story in the country.
“We’re very concerned we’ve lost these hard-won gains, and that’s very frustrating in the humanitarian and development world,” Unicef’s executive director, Henrietta H. Fore, said. “If girls and boys stay out of school, it becomes very difficult to get them back into school.”
A summary of the study on the Unicef website said, “The ongoing conflict and worsening security situation across the country — combined with deeply ingrained poverty and discrimination against girls — have pushed the rate of out-of-school children up for the first time since 2002 levels.”
Girls account for 60 percent of the out-of-school population, the study said, and in the worst-affected provinces — Kandahar, Helmand, Wardak, Paktika, Zabul and Oruzgan — up to 85 percent of girls who should be in school were not attending.
The study attributed the change, particularly for girls, partly to family displacements caused by the war and the enduring practice of child marriages.
It also said shortages of female teachers, poor school facilities and the basic dangers of going to school in conflict zones “are also factors driving children — particularly girls — away from the classroom.”