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Attack in Afghanistan Shutters its School for the Blind

Insurgent Attack Destroyed Braille Printing Press, Classrooms

A horrific attack on August 25 in Kabul targeted the American University of Afghanistan, leaving 13 civilians dead and dozens injured after a harrowing 10-hour siege. It also claimed another vital educational institution – the country’s sole high school for blind people.

Damage from shrapnel is seen on the walls and locked garage doors at the Vocational High School for the Blind in Kabul, following an attack on August 25, 2016 that left the school closed. © 2016 Human Rights Watch

The unidentified insurgents launched the Thursday evening attack from the grounds of the Vocational High School for the Blind, parking an explosives-packed truck outside the school’s clinic. The explosion destroyed the wall separating the school from the university.

The High School for the Blind’s students, 70 girls and 150 boys who studied textbooks printed on the school’s Braille printing press, are no longer in class. The attack destroyed that press, along with the school’s clinic. It also damaged the two buses used to bring the students to school, and which had taken the students home earlier that afternoon. Now the school is closed indefinitely.

I visited the school this week and watched as the school’s two bus drivers and the son of one of its blind teachers cleared the debris strewn by the blast. That debris includes shattered glass from the school’s windows, wooden beams from destroyed classrooms, and metal remnants of the truck. What was left of the clinic was twisted and charred. President Ashraf Ghani has promised the school’s principal, Khwaja Abdul Kabir Seddiqi, that a government team would come to assess the damage and recommend repairs. But Seddiqi doesn’t know when that might happen. Until repairs are made, the school will remain closed.
People clean debris at the Vocational High School for the Blind in Kabul, following an attack on August 25, 2016 that left the school closed. © 2016 Human Rights Watch

Attacks against schools in Afghanistan are common. Taliban and other insurgent forces have burned and blown up schools and prohibited girls from attending. Afghan security forces and the Taliban also use schools as military bases or barracks. But the August 25 attack illustrates the particularly high cost to some of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people. The high school for the blind’s graduates traditionally continued their studies at Kabul University.

But the school’s closure and the uncertainty over when it might reopen means that its students face an uncertain educational future.

Insurgents should respect civilians and civilian structures, including educational institutions. The Afghan government, which has signed the Safe Schools Declaration, should do more to protect schools, such as prohibiting its troops from using schools for military purposes. Until both sides of Afghanistan’s conflict commit to protecting schools, the students of Kabul’s High School for the Blind are unlikely to be the last Afghan students denied an education due to war.

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