Heather Barr urges against using madrassas as school substitutes

Responding to remarks by Taliban Ministry of Education spokesperson regarding the absence of an age limit for girls in madrassas, Heather Barr, Assistant Director at Human Rights Watch, emphasized that religious schools cannot serve as a substitute for formal education.

The Taliban Ministry of Education spokesperson conveyed to the Associated Press that there is no age limit for girls in madrassas, where girls can receive religious education at any age.

The statement has sparked reactions, with some interpreting it as an indication of the Taliban’s intention to permanently close secondary schools for girls.

“Madrassas are absolutely not an acceptable replacement for school, for girls or boys. Afghan experts keep saying this,” Barr wrote on X. “UN is seeking to verify Afghanistan’s Taliban are letting girls study at religious schools.”

For over 800 days, the Taliban has closed schools for students above the sixth grade; however, schools remain open to girls.

Several female students argue that religious schools cannot replace the comprehensive education provided by traditional schools, urging the Taliban to reopen schools for girls.

Khadijah, a resident of Farah, emphasized, “While we appreciate religious education, schools are irreplaceable. Attending school allows us to learn a variety of subjects beyond religious studies, helping us build our future and contribute to society.”

Civil activists express concerns that the Taliban’s enrollment of girls in religious schools is contributing to the spread of extremism in Afghanistan.

Raheel Tashah, a civil activist, asserted, “The Taliban’s attempt to replace traditional schools with religious ones is rooted in their unwillingness to grant women equal status to men. This aligns with their anti-feminist and tribal ideology.”

Tarnam Sidi, another civil activist, added, “By encouraging girls to attend religious schools, the Taliban aims to indoctrinate them with their ideology. It’s part of a plan to promote extremism and fundamentalism, portraying a façade of caring about education to the international community.”

According to the latest statistics from the United Nations Children’s Fund, approximately 3 million girls in Afghanistan are currently deprived of the opportunity to attend school, with some of them pursuing studies in alternative educational settings.