New York [US]:
The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has welcomed the reopening of schools in Afghanistan from Saturday, but stressed that girls must not be kept away from the classroom.
"We are deeply worried", UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore said in a statement on Friday, "that many girls may not be allowed back at this time".
"Even before the most recent humanitarian crisis, 4.2 million children were not enrolled in school. Around 60 per cent of them are girls. Every day that girls miss out on education is a missed opportunity for them, their families and their communities," she added.
According to news reports, the announcement of school reopening from the Taliban, referred only to the return of boys, making no reference to a return date for girls. This move is contrary to promises made Taliban after assuming power in Kabul.
"Girls cannot, and must not, be left behind. It is critical that all girls, including older girls, are able to resume their education without any further delays. For that, we need female teachers to resume teaching," Fore added.
The Taliban last month regained complete control over Afghanistan after US troops withdrew and the Afghan Government collapsed, prompting concern that they will reimpose a harsh interpretation of Islamic law that prohibits girls from attending school.
According to UNICEF, significant progress has been made in education in the country over the past two decades. "The number of schools tripled. The number of children in school increased from 1 million to 9.5 million." The UN agency, led by Fore, therefore urged development partners to support education "for all children" in Afghanistan.
"UNICEF will continue to advocate with all actors so that all girls and boys have an equal chance to learn and develop the skills they need to thrive and build a peaceful and productive Afghanistan," Fore stated.