Attacks on schools across Afghanistan tripled in 2018, keeping the doors of more than 1,000 schools shut, UNICEF reported on Tuesday.
"Education is under fire in Afghanistan," said Henrietta Fore, executive director of UNICEF, in a press release. "The senseless attacks on schools; the killing, injury, and abduction of teachers; and the threats against education are destroying the hopes and dreams of an entire generation of children."
While many schools in the country had been closed previously due to conflict that made it too dangerous for children to attend, last year was the first time an increase in school attacks in the country was recorded since 2015. More than 190 attacks were recorded in 2018 compared to 68 incidents reported in 2017.
UNICEF said the repurposing of schools as voter registration and polling sites during the 2018 parliamentary elections could be one factor contributing to the increase in the use of violence on schools by militant groups, such as the Taliban and the Islamic State.
Nooria Nazhat, a spokeswoman for the ministry of education, told the New York Times that the Afghan government does not have data to verify UNICEF's report, but said it does receive reports about schools being attacked every week.
The violence has caused 431 schools to close over the past several months, Nazhat added.
Though the Taliban once opposed all education for girls, the group has since shifted its extreme position. However, it is suspected that the group is still shutting down schools they deem to be inappropriately run, Reuters reported.
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In the last year, half a million children have been kept from school. Though the government is working to reopen the schools, the increasing violence may continue to keep many of these children away.
The closing of schools primarily affects Afghan girls, who make up 60% of the youth population missing out on formal education in the country.
In addition to the increase in violence, prevalent discrimination against girls and widespread poverty contribute to the increasing number of children aged 7 to 17 who do not attend formal schools. Last year was also the first time in 16 years that figure rose.
With one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, there are now an estimated 3.7 million children out of school in Afghanistan, accounting for almost half of its total youth population.