According to a report released on Saturday by the Ministry of Education, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and UNICEF, almost half of Afghan children are out of school due to factors such as nationwide conflict, poverty, and forced child marriage. This equates to about 3.7 million, or about 40% of children, between 7 and 17 who are not receiving an education. Girls constitute 60% of the children missing out on classes, while in the most impoverished areas, this percentage climbs as high as 85%. This is likely due to the influence of Taliban regime, which discriminates against women in an attempt to adhere to strict Islamic law. In certain areas, girls are denied access to education except for in religious institutions.
The two main reasons why millions of Afghan girls are not attending school are that their parents did not send them to school in the first place, or that child marriage forced girls to drop out of school to care for their husbands and eventually their new families. According to a 2013 report by Amnesty International, a rise in forced marriage and other violations of women’s and young girl’s rights can be attributed to increasing political instability and fear of women increasing their participation in political decision-making. Therefore, political instability and lack of education go hand-in-hand; although Afghanistan’s Constitution calls for free education up until the bachelor’s level, the political situation renders it very difficult for women to safely take advantage of this policy. Many girls also fear for their safety as they make their way to and from classes.
Afghan children, therefore, face multiple economic, cultural, and security-related barriers to attending school. Children most susceptible to missing school include those living in rural areas, Kuchi (nomadic) children, children from low-income or poorly-educated families, and children in unsafe regions. Currently, the highest numbers of girls out of school are seen in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, and Nangarhar.
A lack of demand for education may be playing a role in the low levels of school enrollment. Sociocultural factors such as gender, income, opportunity cost, and high unemployment rates even following the obtainment of an educational degree can make parents very reluctant to send their children to school in the first place. Meanwhile, an inadequate supply of education due to underdeveloped infrastructure and lack of education for nomadic children implies that children simply don’t have access to the kind of education they need. According to a 2015 Education for All Report, a mere 43% of Afghan teachers meet basic certification requirements. Finally, poor governance and low capacity present even more difficulties.
Improving school enrollment rates surely will not be an easy task. The Ministry of Education must undergo significant structural changes and take on larger roles and responsibilities in bringing about change within the education system. Outsiders including countries, institutions, and non-governmental organizations must pressure the Afghan government to improve rights for women and put an end to child labor and forced marriage. The government must also put an emphasis on early childhood education programs and community safety systems that allow children to walk to school without fear of being hurt or even killed. Measures to develop the economy of the nation must focus on eradicating the rural-urban divide, as children in the most underdeveloped rural areas face the greatest risk of being taken out of school to work for their families.
Education is key to a country’s economic and political development. Higher levels of education undoubtedly lead to an increase in employment opportunities, affluence, and public participation in political decision-making processes. Yet many Afghan children do not even have the chance to start school in the first place. The international community must play its part to stimulate change in Afghanistan, mainly by pushing for women’s rights and thereby creating in an environment in which young girls can receive the education they need.
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