NEW YORK, 21 September 2021 - "Distinguished guests and colleagues, thank you for convening this vital conversation.
"In recent years we have seen encouraging progress on girls’ access to education in Afghanistan.
"The number of schools in the country has tripled since 2002.
"Over the past decade, youth literacy has increased from 47 to 65 per cent.
"Over the past 20 years, school enrolment has increased ten-fold, reaching almost 10 million children today. Four million of those children are girls.
"These are significant improvements. We must protect them.
"Despite these improvements, it was clear even before recent events that we need to do more for the children of Afghanistan. 4.2 million children are not enrolled in school. 2.6 million of these are girls.
"For children who are enrolled, schools have been fully or partially closed for the past ten months, due to COVID-19. We know that when schools close, the most vulnerable children who were enrolled may never return to the classroom.
"UNICEF is clear that access to quality education is not only a right for every single girl and boy. It is also an investment. It expands opportunities for each child, for their families, and for their communities.
"The children and young people of Afghanistan cannot afford any setbacks. Or any more delays.
"It is critically important that girls and boys in Afghanistan have an equal chance to learn and to develop the skills they need to thrive.
"We are deeply worried that many girls may not be allowed back to school.
"Girls cannot, and must not, be left behind. It is critical that all girls, including older girls, are able to resume their education without any further delays.
"For that to happen, we need female teachers to resume teaching.
"Together, we must insist that girls and female teachers are able to return to school.
"Together, we must not only help and encourage girls and female teachers to return to school, but actively protect them.
"The international community must also increase investment in education.
"Every child needs – at a bare minimum - foundational literacy and numeracy skills.
"Teachers’ salaries must be paid. Girls - and boys - need qualified female and male teachers, who regularly receive their salaries and are supported to teach.
"UNICEF has been on the ground working for Afghanistan’s children for 70 years. We will continue to be there for them.
"But we need your help. There has never been a more urgent time to stand with the children of Afghanistan – boys but especially girls -- and with the people who inspire and guide them.
"Please join us. Protect and support these children. Thank you."
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