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By Josh Smith

KABUL (Reuters) - Spreading violence in Afghanistan is forcing many schools to close, undermining fragile gains in education for young girls in a war-ravaged country where millions of girls have never been to school, said a Human Rights Watch report released on Tuesday.

After more than a decade and a half of international intervention in Afghanistan, corruption, insecurity, waste, and other problems mean around two-thirds of Afghan girls still do not go to school, the rights organisation said.

Despite the challenges, millions of children have received education they would not have otherwise, but those gains are now threatened by spreading violence and declining international funding, the report found.

"As security in the country has worsened, the progress that had been made towards the goal of getting all girls into school may be heading in reverse — a decline in girls’ education in Afghanistan," the authors wrote.

"In the most insecure areas of the country, schools are closing at an alarming rate due to insecurity."

While the war has affected schools since at least 2005, "as the fighting has escalated and spread to previously secure areas, more schools have closed".

In Kandahar, for example, at least 130 out of 435 schools were closed over the summer, according to a local government official interviewed by HRW.

Access to education can be undermined by a number of factors, ranging from a limited number of qualified teachers and community opposition to a lack of a toilet and other sanitary facilities.

One of the more successful education programmes is also one of the most threatened by a drop in international funds, the report found.

So-called "community-based education" (CBE) programmes have found relative success in expanding access to schools in many areas, according to the researchers.

Those programmes are only a temporary solution, however, as they are all run by non-profit groups and funded by a shrinking pot of international donations, the authors said.

"The absence of long-term strategic thinking by government and donors exposes CBE programmes, and students, to unpredictable closures, which can compromise students’ educational future," the report said.

"International aid has been essential to the progress that has been achieved in expanding access to education since 2001," the report concluded, but "bureaucratic hurdles, low capacity, corruption, and insecurity have contributed to even these funds often going unspent by the Afghan government."

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Michael Perry)

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