ANDAHAR -- Taliban militants in Maidan Wardak Province are threatening parents with extortion and violence if they send their girls to school, local authorities and residents say.
"The Taliban don't allow girls above sixth grade to attend school in Maidan Wardak Province," said Hamida Wardak, a local civil society activist.
"Previously, they abducted a number of teachers, and it has deprived Maidan Wardak girls of an education," she said.
"As the Taliban have seen heavy casualties and financial losses in operations conducted by the Afghan and international forces, the Taliban have once again started to fight civilians instead," Wardak said.
"We tried to bring girls from the districts to [the provincial capital] Maidan Shahr, but the Taliban threatened the families, ordering them to pay a fine of 40,000 AFN ($509) for sending their girls to school or to give double ushr on their farm harvests in the district," she said. "After this, no parents were ready to send their daughters to school."
Threatening women, girls
In addition to preventing girls from going to school, the Taliban have also severely restricted women's right to work.
"The Taliban have recently posed many threats to women in Maidan Wardak Province, one of which is preventing women from working in the civil service or at health centres," Wardak said.
Keeping female nurses or doctors from going to work means female patients go untreated, because male Afghan medics do not treat women.
Some women in the districts of Maidan Wardak Province have master's degrees but cannot work because of the Taliban's intimidation, said Sharifullah Hotak, a member of the Maidan Wardak provincial council.
"The Taliban have ordered women in Maidan Wardak Province not to work in the civil service," he said. "A small number of women who work in Maidan Wardak local government come from Kabul."
"This is a serious threat from the Taliban that needs to be prevented," he said. "It is a critical problem. The government needs to address it."
Spreading ignorance, violence
"The Taliban should stop their enmity with knowledge and the future of our children," said Allah Dad, a tribal elder from Jaghatu District of Maidan Wardak Province who introduced himself using a pseudonym.
"The Taliban send their own children to schools and universities in Pakistan and Iran to get an education, but they have prohibited everything for us," he said.
"This is atrocious and it is an act against Sharia," he said.
The Taliban have shut down girls' education to ensure the next generation remains ignorant and pliable to their will, Allah Dad said.
"Those who disallow education try to spread violence here and want our children to resemble them -- committing violence and harassing and killing civilians," he said.
"I call on the elders and the local government of Maidan Wardak Province to join forces and stand against the Taliban's violence and thus enable our children to get an education," he said.
The Taliban prevent girls' education in some areas of the province, said Maidan Wardak Governor Muzafaruddin Yamin. However, the Taliban's action affects only girls above ninth grade, he said, calling it "sad".
The Taliban have imposed similar restrictions on girls in Kunduz Province.
The Taliban are preventing thousands of girls in Chahar Dara, Dasht-i-Archi and Qala-e-Zal districts of Kunduz Province from studying beyond the sixth grade, said Amruddin Wali, a member of the Kunduz provincial council.
More than 20 girls' schools in the province have been shuttered since 2017, he said earlier this year.
Taking it one step further, the Taliban looted and set fire to Aqtipa Girls' High school in Qala-e-Zal District in October.
The incident took place on October 5, said Qala-e-Zal District Governor Ahmad Fahim Qarluq.
"When the Taliban set fire to the girls' school, most of the books in its library including religious books and copies of the Koran were burned," he said.
"The Taliban prove with this act that they are against the education of this country's children," he said.
[Hedayatullah from Kunduz contributed to this report.]