The Taliban has confirmed for the first time that girls are not permitted to attend secondary school in Afghanistan, deeming it "unsafe".

In an interview with the BBC, acting Deputy Education Minister, Abdul Hakim Hemat said that girls would not be allowed to attend secondary school until a new education policy was approved in the New Year.

Women and girls have complained of being excluded from work and school since the Taliban took power in August, but this is the first official confirmation.

Girls told the BBC of their desperation at being excluded from school for three months.

"Not being able to study feels like a death penalty," says 15-year-old Meena.

Speaking to Reuters, 17-year-old Sahar said: "I am trying to continue my lessons at home but nevertheless the environment at school, the classroom, our friends and teachers is something different compared to being at home.

"I would love to come back to my class, resume my studies, to be with my classmates and teachers."

She said she dreamed of becoming an engineer and was envious of her younger brother and sister who were able to attend primary school.

In the days and weeks after their takeover, Taliban officials repeatedly claimed that women's rights would be protected, albeit within Islamic law. This would have been in stark contrast to the treatment of women under the Taliban’s previous rule between 1995 and 2001.

In September, the hardline Islamist group drew global condemnation when it allowed boys to return to the classroom but told older girls to stay home until conditions permitted their return.

"We are committed to the rights of women and girls, and we will educate them - that is our responsibility. That is not because of the pressure of the world," Waheedullah Hashimi, Director of External Programmes and Aid at the Ministry of Education, told Reuters in an interview published last month.

In some northern areas, girls resumed their education, but others are forced to study in hiding and heavy scepticism remains among the international community.

Hashimi said religious scholars are working on the issue, adding that the Taliban was committed to educating girls and was working on ways of getting them back to school.

Women's rights activist Malala Yousafzai raised the plight of Afghan women and girls when she met with top US diplomat Antony Blinken in Washington on Monday.

Speaking at a photo-op before the talks with Mr Blinken, Malala highlighted the need to get Afghan girls back to schools and allow Afghan women to work.

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After 20 years of relative freedom, Afghan women are facing a new reality since the Taliban's takeover.