AFGHANISTAN: Serious attack on girls' school

Kabul, 25 August 2003 (IRIN) - Following a violent arson attack on an EU-funded girls' school in Masa'i District, 24 km from the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday, education officials said that the incident would probably serve to keep 90 percent of its pupils away from the school.

"Following the attack on our school, we are only expecting maybe 10 percent of girls to come after the break," Amanullah, the headmaster of Sufla High School, told IRIN in Masa'i on Saturday. Along with the attack came a poster and leaflet campaign threatening local parents against sending their daughters to school.

The incident took place just before the end of the two-month school summer holiday and was an attempt to intimidate both parents and children. "It was before dawn when I saw fire coming out of the school library, with two men trying to hit other rooms by arson," Lal Mohammad, the security guard at Sufla school, told IRIN. Mohammad is still confined to bed with severe head wounds and burnt feet, sustained when he confronted the attackers.

According to local people, the fire would have burnt down the entire school if hundreds of villagers had not come to the rescue. As it was, thousands of precious books were lost, along with, stationery, chairs and other equipment.

According to one resident, Faruq, Masa'i District did not have a separate girls' school until recently. "It is the first year we are having a girls' school, and only primary students under age of 10 are attending," he said, adding that he had requested the district security authorities to set up a security post with police near the school to guard it.

Despite the reluctance of many parents to send their children to the school following the attack, others were not put off. Jabarkhan, a local resident and parent of a girl at the school, said the attack would not deter him. "Girls were deprived of education for over two decades in Masa'i, we will continue to support the newly established girls school here and will not let it fail," he maintained.

The authorities said the attackers had left a number of photocopied leaflets near the school urging people to keep girls away from school and to wage war on the pro-Western government in Kabul. Local officials do not know who carried out the attack. The Taliban, or forces loyal to the Afghan former hardline prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are active in the area.

The UN children's agency UNICEF said it had sent a team to the area, and that damaged equipment and books would be replaced.
The agency said such attacks should be kept in perspective. "There are around 7,000 schools in Afghanistan while only 10-15 incidents like this have taken place so far," UNICEF spokesman in Kabul, Edward Carwardine, said.

He added that despite such attacks, overall there had been a 30 percent increase in enrolment of students since last year including girls. "We have realised that the communities are eager and want their children to go to school. So these incidents cannot affect the people’s interest towards education."

Over the past months, girls' schools in Kandahar, Sar-e Pol, Zabol, Lowgar and Vardak provinces have been attacked. Most followed written threats posted overnight in towns and villages in these regions, ordering residents not to send their girls to school. Tuesday's incident is the first known arson attack on a school.

Theme (s): Children, Conflict, Gender Issues,


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