Written by Don Byrd
A new report issued by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a religious liberty advocate based in the U.K., details the tragic impact that religious persecution has on children in many areas of the world. “Faith and a Future” is CSW’s campaign to speak out on behalf of children who are denied education simply because of their faith. These children, they rightly note, “pay a very high price: with their education and their future.”
The report, titled “Discrimination on the Basis of Religion of Belief in Education,” focuses on the intersection between freedom of religion or belief and the right to education, both critical human rights. It analyzes the situation in 20+ countries in Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Specifically, the denial of fair education to religious minority children comes primarily, the report says, in the form of “abuse,” “bias,” (including in school curricula and materials) and “discrimination.”
Here are some excerpts from the introduction, discussing each of those critical problems facing many of the world’s children:
Discrimination based on religion or belief is one factor preventing children from attending school in almost all of the countries of research in this report… For example, in Iran, Baha’i children experience difficulties in accessing higher education as a result of discriminatory policies designed to target them on the basis of their religion. Similarly, in Mexico, school officials often collaborate with local government officials to prevent children from minority faith communities from attending
Biased education can leave children from religious minority communities feeling isolated, reviled and deeply despondent. Derogatory content in textbooks, and intolerant teachers, create a toxic mix for children from vulnerable communities, such as the Baha’i in Iran and the Ahmadi in Pakistan. In the shari’a states of northern Nigeria, there have been occasions when the safety of non-Muslim students has been compromised by unproven accusations of blasphemy that have given rise to violence. Forced conversion, or pressure to convert, in educational settings are also serious issues that occur in a number of countries.
Students can experience physical and emotional abuse at the hands of teachers and fellow pupils. The psychological impact of such abuse should not be underestimated. Several interviewees informed CSW of the ‘mental torture’ they experienced as a result of religious intolerance in educational settings. Rejected by their peers and teachers, this suffering often has lasting consequences.
The report makes a number of important recommendations for UN members, including: “Eliminate stereotyping, false narratives and prejudices from educational materials and processes by amending school curricula and teaching methods where required, and ensuring that training in human rights, including in freedom of religion or belief, is part of school curricula.”
The plight of religious minorities around the world continues to be a growing global catastrophe. Too many of the world’s citizens are denied the basic human right of religious freedom. But nowhere is that more tragic than its impact on children. As this report points out, schools are not only where children gain key opportunities that will effect their lives, it is also where many students learn basic values. When those values lack tolerance for others, disparages minority faiths, or perpetuates harmful religious stereotypes, the cycle of violence, inequality, and hatred on the basis of religion grows ever deeper roots.
You can read the report here.