Wednesday, December 30, 1998 Published at 12:37 GMT
World: South Asia
Afghan schools in 'state of collapse'
The Taleban believe women and girls should remain at home
By the BBC's Pam O' Toole
The United Nations' Children's Fund, Unicef, has warned that 20 years of continuous conflict in Afghanistan have brought that country's school system to a virtual state of collapse.
In a statement issued in New York, the organisation said that almost nine out of 10 girls and almost two out of three boys were not enrolled at school. Meanwhile the adult literacy rate was 47% for men and only 15% for women.
Unicef concludes that Afghanistan's school system is in a virtual state of collapse and that there is little sign of any improvement.
The organisation's Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, said an existing gender gap in education had been further exacerbated by Taleban edicts banning girls from attending formal schools and female teachers from working.
Such moves, she said, contravened international conventions on women and childrens' rights.
Ms Bellamy said the large majority of Afghan children, especially girls, were deprived of educational opportunities. This was all the more tragic considering the high demand for education among Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran.
Ms Bellamy maintained there was no way that Afghanistan could meet the multiple challenges of the 21st century unless it began to uphold the right of all its citizens to basic education.
Since 1995, when the Taleban took over parts of western Afghanistan and began closing down girls' schools, Unicef has withdrawn its support from the formal school system.
It continues to work with the education authorities in some of the few areas not controlled by the Taleban.
In May, the United Nations and the Taleban signed a memorandum of understanding stating that both men and women have the right to education. Carol Bellamy pointed out that these words have yet to be put into practice.