In a distressing turn of events, nearly 90 schoolgirls and their teachers were hospitalized in northern Afghanistan after experiencing respiratory and neurological symptoms in what officials suspect were deliberate poisonings at two girls’ schools. The incidents have shaken the region, where education restrictions have become a contentious issue since the Taliban regained control in 2021, symbolizing the erasure of women from public life.
The first poisoning occurred on Saturday at Kabod Aab School, an elementary school for girls in the Sar-i-Pul Province. Sixty-three students and staff members fell ill shortly after entering their classrooms in the morning. The following day, an additional 26 students and staff members at Faiz Abad Girls’ School, located nearby, reported similar symptoms.
While local Afghan officials initially attributed the poisonings to local animosities between villages, some residents and elders expressed skepticism regarding this explanation. In Afghanistan, girls are prohibited from attending school beyond the sixth grade. However, they are allowed to attend elementary schools, which is why the majority of the affected girls were between the ages of 6 and 12.
Hospitalized with symptoms such as shortness of breath, weakness, nausea, and headaches, many of the students and staff members required ventilators. By Monday, approximately half of them had been discharged, according to local officials. The provincial director of culture and information, Umair Sarpuli, explained that unknown individuals had spread poisonous substances inside the classrooms, leading to the students’ suffering.
Authorities are currently searching for the perpetrators amidst a precarious time for girls throughout Afghanistan. Since the Taliban regained power, the government has imposed restrictions on girls’ education, barring them from attending high schools and universities. Women have also faced limitations in accessing public places, traveling without male relatives, and pursuing employment in various sectors.
These policies have drawn widespread condemnation, even from Islamic governments such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. The incidents at the two schools follow a pattern that has emerged over the past decade, with sporadic poisonings targeting girls’ schools across Afghanistan. During the previous Western-backed government, officials often attributed the attacks to the Taliban, although the group denied involvement.
The affected schools remained closed as security forces conducted their investigation, raising concerns among parents about the safety of their daughters attending elementary schools. With the Taliban’s resurgence and the rollback of women’s rights, parents fear that those opposed to girls’ education now feel emboldened to act with impunity, heightening the risk of further attacks on schools.
The community demands answers and justice to prevent such incidents from recurring. The poisoning of students is regarded as a severe act that has instilled fear among parents and raised doubts about the security of girls’ education. Determining the perpetrators is crucial to ensure the safety of students and restore trust in the education system.
Hassan Haidari, whose daughter is a teacher at Kabod Aab School and was hospitalized, expressed the collective concern: “People want to know who did this to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Otherwise, no one will send their daughter to school.”
The investigation into these incidents is ongoing, and authorities are striving to address the grave implications surrounding girls’ education in Afghanistan.