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Burning of girls' schools in Afghanistan condemned

UN envoy condemns burning of girls' schools in Afghanistan

As Afghanistan prepares to commemorate International Women's Day, the senior United Nations envoy to the country today deplored recent violence against girls' schools – institutions that were banned under the fallen Taliban regime.

“The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, condemns the despicable attacks on girls' schools that took place on 2 March in Farah and 19 February in Badakshan,” spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told reporters in Kabul. “Fortunately there were no casualties, but the attacks by unidentified persons caused damage to school buildings, tents and educational materials.”

The spokesman said the “cowardly” violence was aimed at thwarting reconstruction and development in Afghanistan against the wishes of the country's people. “The overwhelming the majority of Afghans want their children – both boys and girls – to be educated,” he said.

“The mere fact that these communities have rallied around to save their schools and condemn these and similar offences in the past should send a strong message to the perpetrators that their misguided actions are obviously not deterring the desire for education amongst ordinary people,” the spokesman added.

During the burning, one school tent in Bala Bluk district in Farah Province was completely destroyed while the local community managed to extinguish fires in three others. The Farah incident followed an arson attack on 19 February against another girls' school in Badakshan when the main building of Shah Ba Ba Girl's High School was set on fire. Forty per cent of that school was damaged, while classroom materials were destroyed.

Mr. de Almeida e Silva hailed efforts by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to provide replacements for the property lost in the attacks, and pointed out that gender-based violence against schools is not widespread, with fewer than 30 incidents reported out of 7,000 education centres.

Edward Carwardine, a spokesman for UNICEF, reported that more than 45,000 children – over 80 per cent of them girls – have benefited from special accelerated learning classes organized during the winter school vacation.

The drive, backed by UNICEF, took place in five Afghan provinces over the last three months, providing students who missed out on learning with rapid “catch-up” classes to help them join the correct grade when the new academic term begins on 22 March.

“The programme is especially important for girls, many of whom missed up to seven years of schooling during the Taliban era, and in many cases have had to enrol in classes lower than other children of the same age,” Mr. Carwardine said.

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