ISLAMABAD (AP) — UNICEF said Thursday it is deeply concerned by reports of the Taliban pushing out international organizations from Afghanistan’s education sector and ordering them to hand over their activities to local nongovernmental groups.
It’s the latest restriction on NGOs operating in the country after the ban imposed in December on Afghan female staff, allegedly because they weren’t wearing the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, correctly and weren’t complying with gender segregation in the workplace. In April, the ban was extended to the U.N.
A WhatsApp voice note, purportedly from a senior education official in Kabul, says all international organizations have a one-month deadline to transfer their education work to local groups.
The Education Ministry was not immediately available to verify the voice note, but aid agency officials told The Associated Press they are aware of the message and are taking it seriously. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The ban on Afghan female staff working at the U.N. was also relayed through a WhatsApp voice note, purportedly from a senior Taliban figure.
“As the lead agency for education in Afghanistan, UNICEF is deeply concerned by reports that over 500,000 children, including over 300,000 girls, could lose out on quality learning through community based education within a month if international non-governmental organizations working in the field of education are no longer allowed to operate and if handovers to national NGOs are done without comprehensive assessment and capacity building,” the agency said in a statement.
“UNICEF is seeking to better understand the reported directive, and what it could mean for the nationwide program that provides learning opportunities for children in some of the most remote and rural areas of Afghanistan.”
Around 17,000 teachers, including 5,000 women, work in UNICEF’s education activities.
UNICEF is meeting the Education Ministry in Kabul for further information.
Aid sources said some provinces have ordered the immediate suspension of all foreign-led education activities after officials reportedly told Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada that foreigners are creating their own Education Ministry and not coordinating their work with the Taliban.
The latest voice note says the new measure affects all international organizations, even if they are Islamic, and that only ministry-approved Afghan NGOs that agree to ministry conditions can take on education work. The order also affects school construction.
In April, the Taliban closed education centers and institutes supported by NGOs in the country’s south until further notice. The centers were mostly for girls, who are banned from going to school beyond sixth grade.
The ministry did not provide an explanation for the closures at the time. But an education department spokesman in Kandahar said the decision was made in response to complaints.
Aid agencies have been providing food, education and health care support to Afghans in the wake of the Taliban takeover of August 2021 and the economic collapse that followed it.