Nato soldiers run for cover during a gun battle in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The United Nations on Saturday said it was “seriously concerned” about recent attacks on schools, pupils and educational officials by insurgents in Afghanistan.

Afghan children and “their right to education” were being violated through these reported attacks by “anti-government elements” targeting schools and education officials over the past few weeks, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement.

It said it had “monitored unacceptable levels of violence” against schools, educational institutions and their staff, and pupils over the last year by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

“It is imperative that all parties to the conflict respect the civilian status of schools and work to protect and promote the rights of children, particularly girls, to education,” UNAMA said.

The Education Ministry says at least 500 schools have been closed in 10 provinces where Taliban influence has widened.

On Wednesday, insurgents targeted the district education chief in eastern Paktika province, who survived the attack that killed five people.

In Nangahar province a day earlier, an armed group set fire to a girls' school. At least five schools have been closed since January, according to officials.

Insurgents have also reportedly launched a campaign of intimidation against teachers and community elders, forcing fearful parents to stop sending their children, especially girls, to school.

The Taliban have denied any role in these attacks, and say they are not against the education of Afghan boys and girls. They do, however, want them to attend separate schools. - Sapa-dpa