Afghan Girls School Poisoning: 150 Injured in Latest Attack


Another alleged incidence of schoolgirls being poisoned has surfaced in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

Reuters is reporting that over 150 schoolgirls are currently being held in a Kabul hospital after falling ill. The girls were taken to the hospital after complaining of the smell of gas and bad drinking water. All 150 of the girls attended the Sultan Razia school in Kabul. Sameera, a student at Sultan Razia, explains what happened.

"There was a bad smell in our class, our teacher advised us to open windows, when we opened windows, students started yelling and then we all become unconscious. Later we were taken to hospital."

In 2001, the Taliban banned the education of women and girls. Despite this, they still attend school at an obvious risk to themselves and their peers. They do so because they believe in their right to an education. These kinds of attacks are sadly, not new. In April 2012, 150 schoolgirls were allegedly poisoned after drinking contaminated water. A month later, in May of 2012, 120 schoolgirls were allegedly poisoned in Taliqan, Afghanistan. The Afghani government and officials blame conservative radicals as these attacks often come from areas where the Taliban insurgency is strong. Each of these incidences came before the April 18 attack at the Bibi Maryam school in Takhar Province which left 74 schoolgirls hospitalized. 

A writer for the New York Times makes the claim that many of these incidences are the result of a pervasive psychosomatic issue. He cites a report from the United Nations and World Health Organization which said that those who claimed to be poisoned failed to suffer from any of the expected symptoms associated with it. A WHO spokesperson told Newsweek that, “More than 200 samples (blood, urine, and water from the source) have so far been collected, ... No conclusive evidence of deliberate poisoning was found.” Aikins position is partially curious considering the fact that another UN report says that they have 185 documented attacks on schools in 2011 alone. Were all of those fabricated by scared school children too? 

Matthieu Aikins goes on to say, “This does not mean the girls are faking it. Their illness is real, just as real as a person’s clinical depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. And they need help, in the form of counseling and education, as well as long-term interventions to improve school conditions and access to mental health resources.”

What these girls need is to be taken seriously as stakeholders in their community. What these girls need is to be seen as individuals who deserve the right to feel safe in school. What these girls need is for people to believe them when they ask for help. Aikins believes that we are helping to enable future fake poisonings by perpetrating a culture of fear. Something tells me that culture of fear would be pervasive whether or not the media ever said anything about it, you know considering the actual acid attacks, bombings, abductions, forced school closures and murders.  

Whether or not the May 1 incident involving 150 schoolgirls being hospitalized turns out to be the result of poisoning or something else matters less than the state of terror these girls live in every day. We should never shy away from that conversation, no matter how inconvenient they may prove to be for some.