Children’s lives at risk as antagonists occupy schools
KABUL (Pajhwok): Afghan security forces are increasingly using schools as bases during military operations in Taliban-controlled areas, putting children at risk and depriving thousands of an education, a New York-based rights group said on Wednesday.
In a 45-page report, Education on the Front Lines: Military Use of Schools in Afghanistan’s Baghlan Province,the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its reports asked the Afghan government to take immediate steps to curtail security forces’ use of schools for military purposes.
It documents the occupation and military use of schools by state forces and Taliban in Baghlan province. Students risk their lives at schools being used by soldiers which may become military targets, or are deprived of an education until facilities are found elsewhere.
Patricia Gossman, Afghanistan researcher at HRW, said: “Afghan children’s education is at risk not just from the Taliban, but also from government forces that occupy their schools. Children are being put in harm’s way by the very Afghan forces mandated to protect them.”
Foreign donors have invested heavily in building schools, supporting teacher training, and providing textbooks and other materials to students across the country. But schools have increasingly been threatened by insurgents and security personnel, who use them for military operations.
In 2010, HRW recalled, Taliban attacked a middle school that was occupied by security forces in the Postak Bazaar villageoBaghlan provinceand gunned down seven policemen inside a classroom. “Their blood just wouldn’t wash away,” a school official told Human Rights Watch.
By 2015, security forces had reoccupied the school, stacking sandbags on the second floor, while students tried to continue their schooling below. Alarmed school officials managed to get Kabul authorities to write a letter ordering the military forces to leave, but the commander disregarded the order.
The Taliban have also used schools in Baghlan as bases, the group found. The fighters occupied a Swedish government-financed school in Omar Khail village soon after it opened its doors in 2015, to 350 boys and girls.
Pleas by village elders to leave were rejected. In early 2016, government forces attacked the insurgents in the school with gunfire and mortar rounds. The Taliban fled, but the school compound was left in ruins.
Since the ouster o the Taliban regime, one major achievement of the government has been an increase in girls attending school. But parents are much less likely to allow girls to attend if soldiers are on school grounds or there is a risk of attack, HRW said.
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