Depriving Afghan women of their right to secondary education has a devastating effect on the country’s economy, warned the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which estimates the country’s losses at at least 500 million dollars since the Taliban took over a year ago.
Depriving girls of secondary education costs Afghanistan 2.5% of its annual gross domestic product (GDP), according to a new analysis by the UN agency.
If the three million Afghan girls concerned were able to complete their secondary education and participate in the labor market, they would contribute at least $5.4 billion to the Afghan economy.
According to the UNICEF representative in Afghanistan, Dr Mohamed Ayoya, “the March 23 decision not to allow girls to return to secondary school is shocking and deeply disappointing”.
“Not only does it violate girls’ fundamental right to education, but it exposes them to heightened anxiety, and greater risk of exploitation and abuse, including child trafficking, early and forced marriage. “, he said.
Respect girls’ right to education
Ayoya in this sense explained that the analysis indicates that Afghanistan will not be able to regain the GDP lost during the transition and reach its real potential of productivity if the access of girls to secondary education is not respected. “This new analysis clearly exposes the terrible economic impact of this decision on the country’s GDP,” he said.
Even before the Taliban took power on August 15 last year, Afghanistan was struggling with more than 4.2 million children out of school, 60 percent of them girls.
The non-schooling of children, both boys and girls, has a high cost. But that of girls is particularly costly because of the relationship between their level of education and their future destiny. The higher their level of education, the more girls delay marriage and childbearing, the more they participate in working life and make personal choices about their future, according to UNICEF.
Education, the foundation of growth
Note that UNICEF estimates do not take into account the non-financial impacts of denying girls access to education, such as future shortages of female teachers, doctors and nurses, reduced primary school attendance by girls, as well as the increased health costs associated with teenage pregnancy.
The estimates also do not take into account broader benefits related to education, including overall educational attainment, reduced child marriage and reduced child mortality.
“UNICEF wants every girl and boy in Afghanistan to be in school learning,” said Dr Ayoya. “We will advocate relentlessly until this goal is achieved. Not only is education a right for every child, but it is the very foundation of Afghanistan’s future growth”.
The consequences exceed the economic impact
Apart from girls not being able to return to secondary school, child malnutrition is also increasing. In June 2022, 57,000 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition in Afghanistan, an increase of 90% compared to the same period last year, specifies UNICEF.
In June 2021, 30,000 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition in the country. Now children are forced to work to support their families instead of going to school.
More broadly, UNICEF believes that Kabul stands at a pivotal moment for an entire generation of children whose lives are marred by deprivation.
Dr Ayoya concludes in this regard: “We want to tell the Afghan people that we would be helpless without their trust and support. We also thank our donors and partners for their generosity, but urge them to continue their life-saving support for children – especially as winter approaches.”