Ongoing conflict leaves nearly half of children in Afghanistan out-of- school

Worsening security seen in recent years, and engrained poverty and discrimination, eliminate education gains made between 2002 and 2016

03 June 2018
15-year old Zahra returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan two years ago. The family haven’t returned to their home village because of fighting in the areas. Zahra only completed Grade 1 at school before dropping out to help at home but she now attends accelerated learning classes in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan to try and catch up on some of her missed years.
UNICEF/UN0211466/Fricker
15-year old Zahra returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan two years ago. The family haven’t returned to their home village because of fighting in the areas. Zahra only completed Grade 1 at school before dropping out to help at home but she now attends accelerated learning classes in Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan to try and catch up on some of her missed years.

KABUL, 3 June 2018 – Nearly half of children aged between 7 and 17 years old – 3.7 million
– in Afghanistan are missing out on school, according to the Out of School Children:
Afghanistan Country Study released today.

The ongoing conflict and worsening security situation across the country – combined with
deeply engrained poverty and discrimination against girls – have pushed the rate of out-of-
school children up for the first time since 2002 levels.

Girls account for 60 per cent of the out-of-school population, putting them at a particular
disadvantage, and compounding gender-based discrimination. In the worse-affected provinces
– including Kandahar, Helmand, Wardak, Paktika, Zabul and Uruzgan – up to 85 per cent of
girls are not going to school.

The study notes that displacement and child marriage also significantly affect a child’s chances
of going to school. While a shortage of female teachers, poor school facilities and insecurity
affecting the delivery of education in conflict affected areas are also factors driving children –
particularly girls – away from the classroom.

“Business as usual is not an option for Afghanistan if we are to fulfil the right to education for
every child,” said Adele Khodr, UNICEF Afghanistan Representative. “When children are not in
school, they are at an increased danger of abuse, exploitation and recruitment," adds Khodr.

While the numbers are concerning, there is also progress and hope. The study notes that
school dropout rates are low, 85 per cent of boys and girls who start primary school go on to
complete the last grade, while 94 per cent of boys, and 90 per cent of girls who start lower
secondary also complete the grades. The challenge is to get children to start school in the first
place.

“We commend the Government of Afghanistan for prioritising and declaring the year 2018 as
the year of education,” said Khodr. ”Now is the time for a renewed commitment to provide girls
and boys with the relevant learning opportunities they need to progress in life and to play a
positive role in society,” Khodr added.

To overcome this challenge, early learning opportunities, community-based education, including
accelerated learning programmes, gives families more control over education by organizing
classes in community buildings and in some cases inside homes. This is especially critical for
girls, as it reduces insecurity on the way to school, such as harassment and conflict related
incidents.

The ‘Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey, 2016-17’, released in May this year, also highlights
significant improvements in adult and youth literacy rates over the past two decades. The
literacy rate for youth (aged 15-24 years) has risen from 31 per cent in 2005 to 54 per cent in
2017.

“Getting girls and boys into school is so much more than sitting in class,” said Khodr. “It’s
about providing routine and stability in life, which is a wise investment given the insecurity
across parts of the country,” she added.

The report calls for continued government and civil society commitment and action to address
the out-of-school children, especially girls, while recognising that strong national data
institutions and capacity take time and investment to develop. In addition to protecting children
and schools from harm, the report identifies four principles to underpin this work:

  • Targeting provinces with disproportionately high rates of out of school girls, including
  • working with religious leaders and other groups to advocate for increased education,
  • especially for girls;
  • Ensuring girls’ learning facilities meet basic security and health standards, including
  • toilets, handwashing facilities and safe drinking water;
  • Recruiting and building the capacity of female teachers; and
  • Addressing child marriage.

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Notes for editors:

The ‘Out of School Children: Afghanistan Country Study’ relies primarily on three data sources:
National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (2007-2008, 2011-2012) and Afghanistan Living
Conditions Survey (2013-2014); Demographic and Health Survey (2010, 2015); and
Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2011-2012).

The ‘Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey (2016-2017)’ was released in May 2018 after the
‘Out-of-School Children: Afghanistan Country Study’ was finalised.

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Georgina Thompson

UNICEF New York

Tel: +1 917 238 1559

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