Afghanistan’s Education Ministry has banned schoolgirls aged 12 or older from singing at public events, in a move that has triggered outrage for its Taliban undertones.
The Kabul Education Department, in a letter leaked to the media on March 10, said the ban extended to any events that were “held in the presence of men.”
The Education Ministry on March 11 confirmed the authenticity of the letter and said the ban applies nationwide.
The decision has triggered outrage on social media and was immediately condemned by human rights activists.
Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) accused the ministry of promoting “gender discrimination.”
“Any restriction on the rights and freedoms of children is against the general principles of human rights, the convention on the rights of the children and the national laws of Afghanistan,” the AIHRC said in a March 11 statement.
In recent months, Kabul has proposed a raft of conservative policies, including changes to the education system and family law.
Critics say in pursuing a Taliban-style agenda, the government could roll back progress made in the country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the brutal Taliban regime from power.
Observers say the government’s goal is to broaden its own appeal while undermining the Taliban’s claim to Islamic authority.
The role of Islam is among the most contentious issues that are being negotiated as part of intra-Afghan peace talks aimed at ending the 20-year war.
The Taliban, a militant Islamist group, upholds a radical interpretation of Islam. It considers the internationally recognized government in Kabul a “foreign puppet” that has adopted Western values and trampled on Islamic ones.
The Afghan government considers the current political system -- an Islamic republic that is modeled on Western-style democracy -- sufficiently Islamic.
Under the new ban by the Education Ministry, schoolgirls older than 12 will only be permitted to sing at public events if all the participants are female.
Girls older than 12 would also not be allowed to be trained by a male singing teacher.
Schoolchildren often sing at ceremonies or official events in Afghanistan.
A spokesperson for the Education Ministry said the decision was made after parents and students complained that they could not focus on their studies due to singing practice.
But the ministry did not say why the ban only applied to girls.
During the Taliban’s fundamentalist regime between 1996 and 2001, singing and listening to music were outlawed.
In December, the Education Ministry announced a plan under which children would study in mosques for the first three years of school, an unprecedented move that critics said would promote the Talibanization of society.
The ministry said the aim is to provide schoolchildren a "powerful Islamic identity" and give Islam a more central role in education.
But critics said the move was reminiscent of the Taliban regime in the 1990s, when madrasahs -- or Islamic schools -- were common.
After a public outcry, the government shelved the proposal.