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Afghanistan: UNICEF Deputy Executive Director stresses need for education for all

©UNICEF Afghanistan/2006/Brooks
School girls attend an event with UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah marking the start of a new academic year in Afghanistan.

BAMYAN, Afghanistan, 22 March 2006 – In the shadow of a huge sandstone arch that housed one of the famous Bamyan Buddhas in central Afghanistan prior to its destruction by the Taliban, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah today urged all Afghan families to give priority to education for the sake of long-term progress.

Speaking at a special event to mark the start of a new academic year in Afghanistan, Ms. Salah reminded her audience of the importance of education for all as part of ensuring growth and development. "Today is an important day not just because it is the beginning of another year of opportunity for students," she said. "Today is another step towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan, towards a country that puts women and girls first."

While more than 5 million children are expected to attend classes across Afghanistan this year, UNICEF estimates that some 1.2 million primary school-age girls will stay at home. Girls' primary school attendance is just 40 per cent nationally, while the country also reports one of the world's highest maternal mortality ratios and a women's literacy rate of just 14 per cent. Without more attention paid to these issues, Ms. Salah warned, Afghanistan's efforts to attain the Millennium Development Goals could be thwarted.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2006/Brooks
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah speaks with students at Hashim Barat Girls' School in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif on the first day of the new school term.

Education for every child

Ms. Salah also visited Surkdaar School in Bamyan, where she met girls attending classes for the first time. Distributing UNICEF-supported classroom materials, she urged the students to study hard and respect their teachers. She spoke as well with female teachers at the school, who had benefited from UNICEF-backed training programmes, and recognized that the lack of such teachers was another obstacle to girls' enrolment in Afghanistan.

In a reference to the recent spate of attacks against some schools in the country, Ms. Salah told assembled teachers, parents and children: "There is a minority that does not value education as much as you. They will not succeed in holding you back. With your continued determination to provide education for every child, Afghanistan will continue to grow stronger."

Ms. Salah went on to the northern city of Mazar, where she visited Hashim Barat Girls' School. Tomorrow she will turn her attention to women's issues, visiting a women's literacy programme and a maternity hospital. Her week-long visit to Afghanistan is intended to draw attention to the need for more investment in education, health and protection programmes.


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24 March 2006:
UNICEF’s Edward Carwardine reports on UNICEF Deputy Director's visit with Afghan children on the first day of a new school year.

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