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UNICEF alarmed as attacks on Afghan schools rise

UNICEF fears progress in education will be reversed

KABUL/GENEVA, 4 August 2006 – UNICEF warned today that schools in Afghanistan are the targets of increasingly dramatic attacks, noting that reported incidents have spread from the south and southeastern region to all of the provinces and include 11 explosions, 50 school burnings and 37 threats against schools and communities. 

As of July 2006, the UNICEF School Incident Database – a UNICEF-run monitoring system – totaled 99 cases, especially alarming because this is more than six times the number of incidents from the same period in 2005.  Six children have died as the result of the violence.

While UNICEF and the Afghan government are taking steps to protect children and schools, the latest school-security related incidents are becoming increasingly worrisome.  The education structure is still shaky following years of political turmoil, including denial of education for girls, under Taliban rule and subsequent ongoing conflict. 

“With all that the children of Afghanistan have gone through, to expose them to this kind of terrible violence is appalling,” said Bernt Aasen, the UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan.  “The children of Afghanistan have a right to education. Threats, intimidations and violent attacks on students in schools undermine the very fabric of the future of Afghan society.”

UNICEF called on all parties to cease targeting children, education workers and schools.

In March 2002, Afghanistan schoolchildren sparked hope for out-of-school children everywhere, as 1.5 million children returned to the classroom. By December 2006 this figure has soared to 5.1 million children.  Most impressively, 1.5 million girls who had been discriminated against under Taliban rule, returned to formal learning, despite numerous challenges.

Today, schools are closing, students are staying home and the hard-won progress is at risk.  In four southern provinces it is estimated that more than 100,000 children are shut out of school because the school closures. Children and teachers are under increasing threat and being denied their right to a safe teaching and learning environment.

In four southern provinces it is estimated that more than 100,000 children are shut out of school because of school closures. Children and teachers are under increasing threat and being denied their right to a safe teaching and learning environment.

In response,  UNICEF, Ministry of Education and other partners have set up a special task force to devise solutions that is strengthening protection of students, teachers, school officials and schools themselves and providing a rapid response when incidents arise, including:

• Establishing a 24-hour a day communications system with provinces and twice a day call-ins to stay abreast of situations in the field.
• Appointing 34 provincial Protection Advisors to monitor and analyse security data from the field and to work with local task forces, Provincial Reconstruction Team officials and traditional leaders to ensure security. Placing Mobile Protection Teams with two child protection officers per province – with more officers in the bigger provinces.  The Child Protection Officers will devise strategies with Government and local communities towards greater protection of children, particularly girls and female teachers, from any kind of abuse.  They will also monitor that health and safety guidelines including mine awareness, health and hygiene training and first-aid facilities are in place. 
• Promoting community mobilization and public awareness through religious leaders and political leaders who will act as grass roots mobilizers to encourage communities to reopen schools and to send their children to schools and to be vigilant against attacks.  These leaders will receive special training to help them to convince parents to also send their girl children to schools.

When incidents do occur, UNICEF, if security allows, is on-site within 72 hours providing support within five days with the provision of classroom tents, teaching-learning stationary materials, blackboard, chalks, floor mats so as to restore normal functioning of schools and having teachers and children return as soon as possible.

In cases where major repair or construction is needed, UNICEF is taking further action in consultation with the respective Provincial Education Department and the Ministry of Education.

UNICEF has already allocated some emergency rehabilitation funds to each of its zone offices for repair of burnt or damaged schools, with rehabilitation support coming from within the communities.  A very close working relationship has been developed in the field with all agency stakeholders involved in education and in direct support of the Directors of Provincial and District Education offices so as to ensure the earliest possible return to school.

“We must not allow the progress that was made in establishing access to quality education to 5.2 million children be destroyed because we did not try hard enough to protect children’s right to be taught in a safe learning environment.” said Aasen.

UNICEF praised the work of the government and its partners in making Afghan schools a place of learning and not of fear.   

“If we want our children to grow up non-violent, we must do everything we can to ensure that their schools are as safe as they possibly can be,” said Aasen.

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About UNICEF
For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:
Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, Tel: +1-212-326-7452, kdonovan@unicef.org
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF Geneva, Tel: +41-22-909-5604, pmccormick@unicef.org


 

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