Nearly half of Afghanistan's children are not attending school because of war, poverty and other factors, a new report showed Sunday. Per the AP, the study, released by the Education Ministry and the UN children's agency, said that 3.7 million, or 44 percent, of all school-age children are not attending school. It marks the first time since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 that the rate of attendance has declined, following years of steady gains in education for boys as well as girls, who were banned from attending school under the Taliban. The survey says girls account for 60 percent of those being denied an education. "Business as usual is not an option for Afghanistan if we are to fulfil the right to education for every child," Adele Khodr, UNICEF's Afghanistan representative, said in a statement. "When children are not in school, they are at an increased danger of abuse, exploitation and recruitment."
The Taliban have seized several districts across the country in recent years, as the US-backed government has struggled to combat the insurgency. A long-running financial crisis, exacerbated by widespread corruption, has further hindered government efforts to expand access to education. Widespread poverty forces many families to push their daughters into early marriages, often with much older men. The legal age for marriage in Afghanistan is 18, but the law is poorly enforced, particularly in conservative, rural areas. Girls' education is still frowned upon in much of the conservative Muslim country, and is banned in the steadily expanding areas controlled by the Taliban. (Read more children stories.)