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Taliban closes education centers in southern Afghanistan

Taliban are closing education centers and institutes supported by non-governmental groups in the south until further notice, the group said Monday. The centers are mostly for girls, who are banned from going to school beyond sixth grade.

The Education Ministry ordered the Taliban heartland provinces of Helmand and Kandahar to close education centers and institutes while a committee reviews their activities. It did not provide an explanation for the closures and a ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Mutawakil Ahmad, a spokesman for the Kandahar education department, confirmed that education centers’ activities are suspended until further notice. “The decision was made after people’s complaints,” said Ahmad, without providing further details.

Despite initial promises of a more moderate rule than during their previous stint in power in the 1990s, the Taliban have imposed harsh measures since taking over the country in 2021 as U.S. and NATO forces were pulling out of Afghanistan after two decades of war.

The female education ban extends to universities. Women are barred from public spaces, including parks, and most forms of employment. Last year, Afghan women were barred from working at national and local NGOs, allegedly because they weren’t wearing the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, correctly and a gender segregation requirement wasn’t being followed. This order also includes the United Nations.

At least two NGO officials in Helmand confirmed they knew about the Education Ministry’s order. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.

One said the NGO was active in nine districts, offering around 650 classes with 20 to 30 students in each class. Girls and boys attend the classes, he said, but mostly girls as they can’t attend schools.

Most projects are from UNICEF, the U.N. children’s organization, with local NGOs working as sub-contractors or project implementers. Female and male teachers work in separate classes.

Ministry workers supervise all their activities, the official added.

No one from UNICEF in Afghanistan was immediately available for comment.

An education official in Kandahar said many NGOs are active in the education sector and provide education for girls. But he said there is a need to review their activities as there is no accountability over their expenses and there are concerns over corruption and suspicions about centers and institutes being ghost schools. The official, a district director of education, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

It was not clear how many centers and institutes were shuttered or how many students are affected in the two provinces because of the order.

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