Afghanistan's Taliban Closes Schools for Girls

Afghanistan's Taliban religious army shut down more than 100 private schools June 16 that were quietly educating thousands of girls in defiance of the Taliban's ban on education for girls.

The Taliban's Religious Affairs Minister Haji Khulimuddin announced the closures at a news conference in the beleaguered capital of Kabul, where he warned that violators would be punished.

The Taliban had allowed the schools to operate without officially recognizing them.

It wasn't immediately clear what caused the clampdown.

A survey conducted in January by several international aid groups showed that at least 107 so-called informal schools in Kabul were providing education to more than 6,500 children, half of whom were girls.

When the Taliban religious army swept into Kabul in September 1996, it shut down girls' schools, saying the curriculum was against the tenets of Islam. Schools for boys have since re-opened, and the Taliban has allowed girls, 8 and younger, to study only the Islamic holy book, the Koran.

After the age of 8, girls must leave school.

Mr. Khulimuddin told reporters that the Taliban discovered several 14- and 15-year-old girls receiving education in private homes.

"These schools weren't just for children. They also included 14- and 15-year-old girls," he said. "These schools were operating against the principles of Islamic law."

The Taliban also announced it was shutting down vocational-training programs for girls. This effectively will shut down dozens of programs, such as carpet weaving and sewing projects, that have been quietly running to give young girls a skill and a way to earn money.

"This rule will seriously affect all community-based programs for girls and women," said one international aid worker, who asked not to be identified.

The Taliban's religious-affairs minister also accused foreign-aid workers associated with these home schools of propagating anti-Taliban propaganda.

The Taliban's harsh brand of Islamic law bans women from working and girls from attending schools. But it also bans music and most forms of light entertainment. It requires men to grow beards, wear a head covering, and attend the mosque.

Khulimuddin said school operators will have to apply for a license from the Ministry of Education before they will be allowed to operate.

"Right now, we have no control over these schools," he said. "If they get permission, then we can control them."

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