Education In Afghanistan.
A Moral Crime.
Women and children back to school in Afghanistan. Sadly, targeted by the Taliban and a government riddled with corruption and many with an attitude bedded firmly in the past, women, girls and boys still have to fight for their right to get an education.
An hour’s drive north of Kabul, through the ruins of war, the flattened villages, minefields, abandoned tanks and the many security checkpoints, to where the front line between the Taliban and Northern Alliance were once fighting, sits a school in ruins and unused for over four years. Now it is full of life, energy and a hunger for education and learning.
Forced skywards and with so much enthusiasm; the girls from grade 2 math, throw their arms in the air, all desperate to tell the class the correct answer. There is no shame or embarrassment in working hard at this school. The lack of qualified teachers, combined with limited classroom space and the numbers of returning students has forced schools to run a shift system. Here, for example, students are able to study at school for their education, only two hours a day. Each day sees five shifts of 23 classes with children from the age 9 to 17. Children are split in to groups according to their ability and not ages. Many of the girls who have not received any home tuition, are far behind. They will study subjects such as their own language and religion to math’s, English, History, mine awareness and hygiene in the home. The children work while their school is rebuilt around them and when their time is up, many go off to work. For without their contribution to the household their families would not survive.
Both boys and girls have opportunities now, they thought might never come. Just to wear a school uniform, to read a book, to draw or paint a picture and to learn an instrument. To study without restriction and play without having to hide.
Sadly though, for many in this country, the opportunity now given to women and girls to study, does not sit well with many. Traditional views towards women and children are becoming, once more, a serious problem. Armed groups and supporters of the Taliban, often target women who teach and work within the education system. The girls who have returned and kept up their education, also suffer instances of kidnap. Extortion has become widespread across the country. In the worst cases, women and children are regularly burnt alive for attending school or just receiving tuition at home, which is still considered a “Moral Crime” by many in president Karzi’s government.
Figures from Human Rights Watch underline that there are up to as many as 400 women on charge in prison in Afghanistan for these ‘so called’ moral crimes. Many women and children run away from home, away from their families due to wide-spread abuse and forced marriage, so they can try to live the life they want. But there are few women’s shelters since the government regulated against them in 2011, leaving little choice for the girls and women of this country. Forcing 75% of women and girls in to marriages and 87% facing physical, sexual or psychological abuse every day.
When education had been made freely available to all, the children of this country returned to the class room in their millions. So happy for the opportunity to once more receive an education, the fact they do so in the shells of bombed out schools, walls riddled with bullet holes, classes held in corridors or from the blackboards painted on outside walls, shows their commitment and desperation to move on and live normal lives. There are few chairs to sit on, very little stationary or books available and because of the number of children returning and the rebuilding work, they can only enjoy those few hours a day. Sadly the return to old ways by many in the country and the resurgence of the Taliban, has caused student numbers to dwindle.
The head master of this school in the Shomali Plains is justifiably proud of his work. Boys and girls are all taught the same subjects. Teachers are both male and female and sport is played by all, football and volleyball. But it is impossible to hide the worry that is felt by all involved in this project. While the Afghan government continues to give well-known warlords, corrupt politicians and businessmen a free rein and the Taliban regain their strength in much of the country, people are forced back into relying upon transitional justice systems and in many cases the court of the Taliban, who consider the education of women a moral crime.
International efforts to support human rights and education, little own the rule of law, governance and access to healthcare are in great danger with rapidly declining foreign aid and security. Civilian casualties are rapidly rising due to insurgent attacks, now using night raids to abuse and terrify the population. So with crime rates rocketing, a government where corruption is endemic and international troops now looking for the back door and untrusting of their Afghan counterparts the question is what are we going to leaving behind?
If the western world does not follow through with all its promises, Afghanistan will fall back in to the same position that it was in in 1999, if it has not already happened. Will this really be the fate waiting for Afghanistan and its people or will the west learn by its continual foreign policy blunders? Leaving its many agendas behind and use its strengths and power for good.
The children of Afghanistan at the very least need our support and a chance at education to rebuild their world. If we don’t succeed in Afghanistan how will we ever succeed anywhere else?
Writing and photography By Thomas W. Morley