Attending formal education, either in public schools, private schools, or madrasas, has been compulsory in Afghanistan until the 9th grade. However, reportedly around 3.7 million children were out of school across Afghanistan in 2018 and 60 % of them were girls. Most of the out-of-school children lived in rural areas, while the attendance rates, particularly for girls, were considerably higher in urban areas. Generally, there were more schools for boys than for girls in Afghanistan, with access of girls to a school notably higher in regions controlled by the former government than in regions under the control of the Taliban [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 2.5, 2.5.1].
Groups of marginalised children who were disproportionately excluded from and deprived of access to school comprised children with disabilities (including psychosocial issues), children from ethnic, linguistic, and religious minority groups, children living in urban slums and on the street, children whose families migrate seasonally for work, and refugee and IDP children. Engagement in child labour was an additional factor for a considerable drop in school attendance [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 2.5].
Other challenges faced by the Afghan educational system included insecurity, shortages and damages of school buildings, shortage of textbooks and teaching materials and resources, shortage of teachers (especially female teachers), the alleged appointment of teachers on the basis of cronyism and bribery, lack of inclusive facilities at schools, cultural norms which deprioritise education for girls, as well as poverty, rural access issues, and long travel distances to schools for many children. The 2019 presidential election period revealed a peak in targeting school facilities due to the use of government-owned schools as polling centres and caused long-term impact on the access to education. Schools were also used for military purposes by the former government and pro-government forces [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 2.5.1; COI query on education sector; Security 2020, 1.4.5].
In the context of the conflict, deliberate attacks on schools and education personnel and students by AGEs were also reported. Attacks against girls’ schools carried out by both ISKP and the Taliban have been documented. The Taliban regularly issued statements claiming to be in support of education and proclaiming an absolute ban on attacks on schools. It was observed that such attacks were no longer systematic but continued to take place. The objective of armed groups appeared not to be school closures, but rather gaining control over them through the choice of curriculum, the recruitment of teachers, and regular inspections [COI query on education sector; Conflict targeting, 18.104.22.168; see also the profile 2.5 Educational personnel]. In 2020, UNAMA documented 62 incidents that affected children’s access to education, comprised of attacks on education facilities, targeting of educational personnel, and threats against education facilities and their staff. Most of the incidents occurred in the eastern (16 incidents), north-eastern (14 incidents), and northern (10 incidents) regions. In the incidents, 30 students were killed and 53 injured [Security June 2021, 1.4.4]. UNAMA documented a continuation of attacks on health and education facilities and workers during the first half of 2021, including direct attacks and fighting causing damage to schools, hospitals, and their personnel. The deadliest attack against civilians in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 was on 8 May 2021, with three non-suicide vehicle-borne IEDs detonated outside a school in a Kabul neighbourhood mainly inhabited by the Hazara community, in which at least 85 civilians were killed and at least 216 other civilians were injured, most of whom were schoolgirls. Reports attributed this attack to ISKP [Security September 2021, 1.4.2, 1.4.4, 2.1, Security June 2021, 2.1.3].
Prior to their takeover, it was indicated that the Taliban’s position had changed from a complete opposition towards government schools to an oversight of education services in some provinces, mainly due to local pressure. Generally, what happened with schools was considered to vary depending on the local commander and the population. The behaviour of the Taliban towards girls’ education also appeared contradictory. Although the Taliban officially indicated that they would not oppose girls’ education anymore, deliberate restriction on the access of women and girls to education and closure of girls’ schools continued to occur, especially concerning girls beyond sixth grade (12 years) in areas under their control. Very few Taliban actually allowed girls to attend schools after their puberty, and others did not allow girls’ schools at all [COI query on education sector].
In general, in the cities of Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, educational facilities were present and access to schools was assessed to be better. In the cities, lack of financial resources or lack of documentation (for IDPs and returnees), seemed to be the major impediments to a child’s education [Key socio-economic indicators 2020, 2.5.1; COI query on education sector].
The general deficiencies in the educational system, and the limited opportunities for education cannot as such be considered persecution, as they are not the result of an actor’s deliberate actions. However, in the case of deliberate restrictions on access to education, in particular for girls, this could amount to persecution. In this regard, developments related to the policies and practice of the Taliban concerning the education of girls should be carefully assessed on the basis of up-to-date COI.
Nexus to a reason for persecution
Where well-founded fear of persecution is substantiated, the individual circumstances of the child should be taken into account to determine whether a nexus to a reason for persecution can be substantiated. Depending on policies pursued by the Taliban, religion and/or political opinion may be relevant.
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