UN chief asks Taliban to let girls return to school

More than one million girls are thought to have been barred from high school since the group swept to power in August last year

Afghan primary school girls in Kabul. EPA
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday again called on the Taliban to reopen high schools to girls across Afghanistan.

Speaking as the UN General Assembly's "high-level" week began, Mr Guterres emphasised the importance of girls' education, saying it is vital "to deliver peace, security, and sustainable development, everywhere".

“From this platform, I appeal to the authorities in Afghanistan: Lift all restrictions on girls’ access to secondary education immediately,” Mr Guterres told a UN education summit ahead of a busy week that will see world leaders address the 193-member body.

According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, more than one million girls are thought to have been barred from high school since the Taliban swept to power in August 2021.

The Taliban do not currently have a permanent representative at the UN after the body rejected the group's pick for the position, Suhail Shaheen.

The Taliban are keeping schools open for boys but have told girls to stay home. The ban prevents girls attending grades seven to 12, primarily impacting girls aged between 12 and 18.

The UN chief also warned that unequal education was rapidly dividing society.

"Education is in deep crisis. Instead of being the great enabler, education is fast becoming the great divider. Some 70 percent of 10-year-olds in poor countries are unable to read a basic text," he said.

Also addressing the summit was Somaya Faruqi, the captain of Afghan Girls Robotics Team known as the "Afghan Dreamers".

She urged world leaders to "not forget those who are left behind, those not lucky enough to be at school".

Somaya Faruqi, activist and former captain of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, speaks during the Transforming Education Summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Reuters
Updated: September 19, 2022, 7:17 PM