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Saturday, March 20, 1999 Published at 19:44 GMT

World: South Asia

Appeal for Afghan children's education

The Taleban say there is no money for separate girls' schools

By William Reeve in Kabul

The importance of primary education for all children, including girls, was highlighted on Saturday at a ceremony sponsored by the United Nations children's agency, Unicef, at a school in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Unicef's resident head in Kabul, Dr Eric Donelli, pointed out that Unicef's latest report, State of The World's Children, which focused on education, had not been marked in Afghanistan until now because UN ex-patriot staff had only just started returning to the country after a seven- month absence.

Education in short supply

The ceremony was held at a boys' school in central Kabul. Here, about 600 boys learn vocational skills and also study a range of standard subjects.

The school, set up a year ago by Azimullah Hafizi, tries to pay for itself by selling carpets, shoes, furniture and other items made during the training courses.

The boys said they very much enjoyed the school. In a country where education is in very short supply, they said they especially enjoyed the academic classes as this gave them an opportunity to get educated.

Mr Hafizi said about 30% of his students were orphans. He said he had repeatedly called for assistance from the United Nations and international aid agencies but that none had been forthcoming.

He said he was not asking for too much, but that he wanted steady and sustainable aid for books, food for the children, and teachers' salaries.

Unicef's Dr Donelli said the UN is happy to start giving every assistance to schools in Kabul and elsewhere in the country.

He said the money is ready, but he said the UN is waiting for a report from the Taleban's Education Ministry giving a detailed list of needs under the terms agreed in a memorandum signed by the UN and the Taleban earlier last year.

Waiting on the Taleban

Under this memorandum it was agreed that the UN would help fund 22 schools - half for boys and half for girls.

Dr Donelli said he is waiting for details, such as what repairs are needed for buildings damaged in the conflict, how many students are at the schools, how many books they need and so forth.

Once this report is forthcoming, Dr Donelli said Unicef would give every assistance possible.

Under the terms of the memorandum, the Taleban agreed that girls schools could be given assistance.

To date, the Taleban have repeatedly said it has not been possible to educate girls because they did not have the necessary funding to provide separate facilities.

Parents in Kabul and other cities say they are desperate for their children to be educated. Any move towards providing this opportunity would be much welcomed.

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