The vulnerable teachers of Afghanistan
|June 17th, 2019|
|by:||Shadi Khan Saif|
|tags:||Afghanistan, election, Taliban|
Caught between the duty of voting in the Presidential polls scheduled for September, and the Taliban insurgents’ deadly threats against participation, hundreds of thousands of teachers are in disarray.
In the southern outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul, a public-sector teacher, Haider Khan, told FairPlanet during the elections that their neutrality and respect in the society is suddenly under threat. “Our sole purpose of existence and duty is to educate and nurture out future generation in line with the Islamic principles and requirements of the modern-era, but they (Taliban) consider us as ‘legitimate target’ for deadly attacks if we are made to serve during the election process by the government”, he sighed.
Afghans will go to the polls to elect the new president for the country on September 28th in which the teachers such as Khan would be asked to serve at polling stations.
Last year, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported on the deliberate campaign of violence and intimidation conducted by the Taliban, stating the group was attempting to disrupt parliamentary elections in October. The Taliban’s tactics included attacks against civilians and civilian objects, resulting in record numbers of civilians killed and injured on an election day.
The “2018 Elections Violence” report documented how on 20th October and subsequent days when delayed polling took place, the UNAMA verified 435 civilian casualties (56 deaths and 379 injured). It said the level of civilian harm linked to parliamentary elections is particularly high compared to previous election cycles when factoring into account the deaths and injuries resulting from electoral-related violence experienced over the preceding months during the voter registration and campaigning periods.
The report documents grave concerns over the numerous attacks by Anti-Government Elements, mainly the Taliban, directed at civilian objects and populated civilian areas during the elections, including attacks against schools used as polling centres.
Prior to the polls, the insurgents have ‘ordered’ all educational workers, teachers, lecturers and school principals in all cities and rural areas of the country to halt transformation of their schools into polling stations and prevent their teachers and students from participating as election workers. The Taliban dubbed the election process as a ‘foreign plot to prolong occupation, mask military invasion and deceive the common mindset’.
Alarmed by this, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has called for better protection measures for schools in Afghanistan during turbulent election periods so that potential outbreaks of violence do not disrupt children’s access to quality education.
“Concrete steps are required across all government ministries to ensure the safety and civilian nature of schools and to take steps to reduce attacks by avoiding military and political use of school buildings. In line with the Safe Schools Declaration, which seeks to ensure the continuation of education during armed conflict, voter registration and polling centers for forthcoming presidential elections and potential run-off elections must be located in sites other than schools,” said Anthony Neal, NRC’s Advocacy Manager in Afghanistan, who recently attended the third International Conference on Safe Schools in Palma De Mallorca, Spain.
Afghanistan was one of nine countries, which suffered more than 500 attacks on schools in the last five years, with 192 attacks on schools and teachers recorded in 2018 – a threefold increase on the previous year - according to new and updated data from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).
Of these 192 attacks – almost 50% were related to the use of schools as voter registration and polling centers during last year’s parliamentary elections. As the country heads towards presidential elections - scheduled to take place this September - the continued use of school buildings puts access to education across the country at increased risk.
“Just as in 2014’s presidential elections - schools last year bore the brunt of election-related violence. Throughout the voter registration period and on polling day itself, schools were targeted, bombed and in one instance set alight. All parties must respect the safety, protection, neutrality and independence of humanitarian organisations’ supporting education in Afghanistan and attacks on schools, wherever they occur, must be condemned,” Neal added.
As a solution, some local civil society organisations have suggested that to respect and protect children’s access to education, a fundamental human right, the delegation of duties and use of teachers as temporary staff should be re-assessed by the government.
Dr. Nezamuddin Katawazi, director Peace and Human Rights Organisation, told FairPlanet that the already fragile education sector should not be further burdened with the heavy and thorny election process. “Firstly, all warring sides need to acknowledge and respect the neutrality of the teachers and schools, and secondly if there is way out for the government, it should arrange alternative means for the polls so that the schools are not targeted [by the insurgents]”, he said.
Over 50% of the more than 5,000 voter registration and polling centers in last year’s parliamentary elections were schools. Given the increased risk of attack during the elections, many schools across the country were closed including more than 39 schools supported through NRC’s Accelerated Learning Program.
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