The Taliban have sent girls home in tears from secondary schools in Afghanistan just days after announcing that they would be allowed back to the classroom.
Since the militants took control of Afghanistan in August, girls’ secondary schools have been shut and on Wednesday morning they were due to reopen.
But students were left in tears after being ordered to go home.
Teachers from three schools in the capital of Kabul said that girls had returned in excitement but were left disappointed by the sudden reversal.
“We all got disappointed and we all became totally hopeless when the principal told us, she was also crying,” one student, who did not give her name for security reasons, said.
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The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, and banned female education and employment.
After the regime was toppled, girls and women were allowed to return to school and work, and the international community has made the education of girls a key demand for any future recognition of the Taliban administration.
The Afghan education ministry had announced last week that schools for both girls and boys would open on Wednesday.
On Tuesday evening a spokesman released a video congratulating all students on their return to class.
Only 24 hours later the department said secondary schools would be closed for girls until a plan was drawn up in accordance with Islamic law and Afghan culture, according to Bakhtar News, a government news agency.
“We inform all girls’ high schools and those schools that have female students above class six that they are off until the next order,” the notice said.
A Taliban administration source confirmed to Reuters that schools for girls in Kabul would be closed for now, without elaborating.
Deborah Lyons, head of the UN mission to Afghanistan, wrote on Twitter: “Hearing disturbing reports that female students above the sixth grade will not be invited back to school by the authorities, if true, what could possibly be the reason?”
Jan Egeland, who is the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, reacted the closures saying the u-turn “casts a dark shadow on the start of the school year in Afghanistan”.
“Our teams on the ground tell us that in places where we work, girls were excited to return to school after eight months of closure, but arrived this morning only to be then turned away,” he said.
“We hope the deeply concerning announcement by the Ministry of Education will be reversed. We expect the Taliban government to allow all girls and boys across the whole country to resume their complete education cycle, in line with earlier public assurances they have given.”