The Taliban ordered shutting down girls’ secondary schools in Afghanistan on Wednesday, just hours after they were reopened for the first time since August, Agence France-Presse reported.

Taliban spokesperson Inamullah Samangani confirmed the development to the news agency. However, he did not offer any explanation behind this sudden closure of schools.

Education ministry spokesperson Aziz Ahmad Rayan also refused to comment on the matter, Agence France-Presse reported.

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August, the insurgent group had claimed that there would be no discrimination against women.

Educational institutions had remained closed when the Taliban seized control due to the coronavirus pandemic. Two months later, the educational institutions opened but only boys and primary school girls were allowed to resume classes.

This had led to fears that the Taliban would shut down all formal education for girls as the insurgent group had done when they were in power between 1996 and 2001, according to the news agency.

The education ministry had said on Tuesday that reopening of secondary schools was always a government objective. On Wednesday, schools had reopened in Kabul, Herat, Panjshir and some other areas. Reports said they remained closed in other places, including Kandahar, where the Taliban draws their major support.

On Wednesday, external relations representative Waheedullah Hashmi told the Associated Press that the decision to cancel the opening of secondary girls’ schools came late on Tuesday, night.

Hashmi, however, added: “We don’t say they will be closed forever.”

‘Extraordinarily cruel’: Human Rights Watch

Heather Barr, the associate director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, deplored the Taliban’s decision.

“The Taliban promised to open all schools – including girls’ secondary schools – two days ago, on Monday, this week,” she tweeted. “How extraordinarily cruel, to a nation of girls, to reverse that today.”

She also shared a letter written by the education ministry of Afghanistan announcing reopening of schools.

Mette Knudsen, deputy special representative of the secretary general (political), United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, also called for equal access to education for boys and girls.

“The UN in Afghanistan deplores today’s reported announcement by the Taliban that they are further extending their indefinite ban on female students above the 6th grade being permitted to return school,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan tweeted.

Head of the UN agency Deborah Lyons called the reports of closing down schools disturbing. “If true, what could possibly be the reason?” she tweeted.

An Agence France-Presse team was filming inside the Zarghona High School in Kabul, when a teacher entered and said that the class was over.

Students then packed up their belongings and left, the news agency reported.

“I see my students crying and reluctant to leave classes,” Palwasha, a teacher at Omra Khan girls’ school in Kabul, told AFP. “It is very painful to see your students crying.”

What Unicef had told Afghan authorities

After a three-day visit to Afghanistan, United Nations Children’s Fund Executive Director Catherine M Russell had issued a statement on February 25 expressing “grave concerns” about what she saw in the country.

“In the streets of Kabul, scores of very young children dart in and out of traffic, chasing cars and asking for money,” Russell said.

She added: “The boys and girls I spoke to have dreams, but they can’t fulfill them if they continue to be shut out of school, if they have to work on the streets, if they are married off in exchange for dowry, if their parents have no jobs, or if they are dying from hunger.”

Russell urged the authorities to allow girls to go to schools again.

“I urge the de facto authorities to translate their promises on women and children’s rights into concrete action and allow all girls to go to school and all women to go back to work – without any further delays,” she said.

Unicef also offered an emergency cash support for public school teachers.

Nearly 8.8 million, or 88 lakh, children are enrolled in public school in Afghanistan, according to the UN agency.

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