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useradd and passwd

I am writing a program which reads a username and password from a database
and writes scripts that would be run through a cron job to create account.

I am using perl to write those scripts.

I can use a useradd to create account like
useradd $USERNAME

I can't give a password becuase it takes a encrypted password.

I then try to do a passwd to modify the passwd, but how can I pass the
arguments for the passwd command thru shell script?

Or can you tell me any way to write a script that would create accounts
using a username and password..