According to UNICEF, the ongoing war, extreme poverty and cultural discrimination against women have pushed up the rate of out-of-school children for the first time since 2002, a year after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
More than 16 years later, Afghanistan remains a hotbed of conflict, suicide bombings and airstrikes — and schools are sometimes caught in the crossfire. In April, for example, the Afghan government killed dozens of civilians, including children at a religious school, in an airstrike in Kunduz province aimed at the Taliban. The report also points out that an uptick in militant attacks on mosques and public squares, especially in recent months, has considerably affected children's access to education.
Of the 43.7 percent of children who are out of school, 60 percent are girls, the report says, compounding already-severe gender-based discrimination in the country. In some provinces, as many as 85 percent of girls are not going to school, and in October, a report by One — a global organization that fights extreme poverty — ranked Afghanistan as the fourth-worst country for girls to get an education.
The findings are probably disappointing for a government that has championed education as a top priority since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. After invading Afghanistan that year, the United States also poured large sums into boosting schooling there. According to the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, the Pentagon, State Department and USAID spent $759 million on primary and secondary education in Afghanistan from 2002 through 2016.
But there may also be cause for hope. UNICEF noted that while school-attendance rates are low, dropout rates are low, as well. Eight-five percent of boys and girls who start primary school go on to complete their last grade.
“The challenge is to get children to start school in the first place,” UNICEF said in a news release.