For most in the West, education is compulsory, for many boys and girls elsewhere in the world, access to education can be troublesome, as highlighted in Malala’s recent address. In Afghanistan, the ongoing conflict has meant that most children have had little to no access to education, in violation of article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Although the Afghan Constitution has established the right to education for all Afghanis, levels of insecurity in many parts of the country have prevented large numbers of children, namely, but not exclusively, girls, from accessing education. The Taliban and other extremist groups have not only threatened to attack schools and all those associated with them but have also followed through with their threats: almost 1,000 schools closed because of attacks between 2006-2009 alone. As such, one of the main reasons many children do not attend school is because they and their parents fear for their safety.
But was it always like this? Definitely not. Afghanistan has changed significantly since the 60‘s when it was thriving. Many older Afghan women today reminisce the days they would go to school freely, attend university and once in their teens go out to the cinemas in their fashionable skirts and dresses, attend parties, meet with friends and so on.
However conflict, including that caused by the Soviet invasion, and Taliban rule especially destroyed much of Afghan society, including the education system. After the fall of the Taliban, enrolment was estimated at 43% for boys and just 3% for girls. Many Afghan women today who grew up during the time of Taliban reign reminisce the days spent at home being essentially banned from attending school, listening to music that was ‘secretive‘ and popular at the time which today serves as a bitter-sweet memory of the past.
Today, more than half of Afghanis are illiterate. Schools that are open and safe from attack are run by teachers who have very few qualifications to teach, indicating that the standards and quality of the education is inadequate. But in desperate times, what other choice is there? For this reason, along with the fact that parents are also less willing to send their children out into danger, (as many are extremely poor), many children are pushed into work instead. It is ultimately the government’s responsibility to protect, respect and fulfil its citizen’s rights. As such, it is their responsibility to protect the child’s right to have access to schools and the education system, it is their responsibility to respect the child’s right to education by understanding its importance and therefore need for increased attention and it is their responsibility to fulfil each child’s right to education by making schools a safer place for children to access. The issue of importance and attention is particularly pivotal, since the deteriorating security situation and the focus on the ever-growing insurgency problem takes centre focus, leaving development behind.
Although the situation is not as good as it could be, it is also important to highlight the fact that on the surface, things seem to be getting better. The World Bank has shown that girl’s enrolment has increased to 2.7 million from less than 200,000 in 2002, and boy’s attendance to about 4.4 million from less than a million. However, whilst it is important to praise the positive increase, it is also important to note that girls enrolment is still just over half of that of boys indicating that more work is still needed to reduce the gender gap. However, as the violence continues, and NATO are coming ever closer to pulling out, prosperity in the economy seems bleak, as does the prospects for stability in the violence. As such, the many children who so desperately want to know about the world are left ignorant.