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Taliban closes private schools for girls

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The United Nations called Wednesday for an emergency meeting with Afghanistan's Taliban religious leadership over its decision to close more than 100 private schools that have been teaching girls math, language and other basic subjects.

A Taliban official, in announcing the closure edict Tuesday, said the schools run counter to the army's aim of keeping women out of the workplace and girls out of schools. The order also applies to scores of home-based vocational training programs, many of them run by international aid groups, that teach girls and young women to weave carpets and sew.The United Nations, in a statement released in neighboring Pakistan, said the closures "will have a devastating impact on the welfare of many of the city's neediest people - particularly women and children."

Under the new rules, the Muslim government will issue licenses to schools. Only girls 8 years old and younger will be allowed to attend and teaching will be limited to the Koran, Islam's holy book.

The Taliban's Religious Affairs Minister, Haji Khulimuddin, said many of the home-based schools had been in violation of those rules. "These schools weren't just for children. They also included 14- and 15-year-old girls," he said Tuesday in Kabul.

In its prepared statement, the United Nations said the decision violates an agreement signed between the two parties last month that promises to discuss "problem areas," specifically access to education and health care for women and girls.

A survey conducted in January by international aid workers found at least 107 home schools operating in Kabul, teaching 6,500 students, half of them girls. Subjects include religion, language and math.

Many of the schools have been run by women teachers forced to quit their jobs after the Taliban took control of the capital in 1996 and instituted a rigid version of Islamic law. That law bars girls from receiving the same education as boys.

The Taliban had allowed the home-based schools to operate for the past year without officially recognizing them, and it wasn't immediately clear why the religious army chose to announce the crackdown now.

The May 13 agreement between the United Nations and the Taliban pledged to establish a joint committee "to discuss a range of humanitarian and development issues including problem areas such as access to education and health," said the U.N. statement.