Defending girls' education in Afghanistan

DESPITE SOME PROGRESS in recent years, an Afghan girl desiring any education above the most basic level still faces great social, cultural, and political difficulties. For years, the Taliban controlled education in most areas, and while boys and young men were educated in strictly Islamic schools or madrassas, girls were excluded. From 1994-2001 all girls in Afghanistan were banned from attending schools of any sort. Recent figures show that the current literacy level for girls/women stands at only 18 percent.

After a Western-supported government was established in Kabul, secular schools began to open, but Taliban resistance to secular education is still strong, and girls are specific targets. Violence is meant to intimidate and sometimes to harm—as in the case of a notorious acid attack that maimed a number of girls in 2008. According to a Ministry of Education spokesman, only a "few primary schools for girls" and three girls' high schools exist in the entire Helmand Province, an area where the Taliban are particularly strong.

Even in sectors where schools are open, and the Taliban are not a deterrent, tradition usually stops girls from attend ing school after they reach puberty or around age 11 or 12. A father's priority for his daughter is arranging a profitable marriage, which is seen as a method of earning money or settling disputes. Although the minimum legal age for marriage is 16, 57 percent of all marriages in Afghanistan involve girls under that age.

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March 22, 2010

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