Sunday, March 4, 2012

Stop religious persecution, especially of children

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada recently published a report dealing with the religious persecution of children (see: It is a shocking report. Although religious persecution affects people of all ages, it impacts children in a special way. But this topic has not received adequate consideration by churches, governments, or others in the international community. This report tries to correct this situation by describing the problem clearly and then making several suggestions on what governments can do to rectify it.

The report focuses on the persecution of Christian children, but the same issues apply for all children who are persecuted because of their religious beliefs. Such persecution typically occurs when a religion is in a minority situation in a particular country.

When people suffer for their faith, children share many of the same experiences. Yet they are especially vulnerable, and their ordeals are often unacknowledged. Amnesty International notes that children “suffer in silence, their stories never told, their torments never called into account.” That must change.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that 70 percent of the world’s seven billion people live in countries where religious freedom is highly restricted. Children 18 and under, who constitute more than 2.2 billion of the world’s population, are over represented in these regions, since nations with high restrictions on religious freedom generally contain high populations of children.

I want to highlight parts of this report because of the the wide scope of this problem in the world today, and even more because children often suffer unnecessarily for what others have done. Children are the intended targets of religious persecution, sometimes because of their own faith, but more often because of their parents’ faith, or because they live in communities that are identified with a particular faith. The persecution of children can take many forms, including imprisonment, torture, murder, and kidnappings.

In North Korea, the government regularly imprisons religious believers, regardless of age .It has been documented that North Korean authorities have incarcerated the children and even grandchildren of
anyone caught praying. 

In Uzbekistan, the government severely restricts religious activity and has criminalized unregistered religious groups. Those who practice their faith without the official approval of the government, including children, are frequently imprisoned. according to reliable reports torture is used to force adults and children to renounce their beliefs.

The kidnapping of children has been reported in some Muslim-dominated states or regions. Girls have been taken away from their parents, forced to convert to Islam and then forcibly married to Muslim men who are, most often, significantly older than them.

In some countries children have been persecuted in their schools and social circles. They have been singled out by teachers, bullied by neighbours, and rejected or tormented by their peers. Children are often not attacked because of their own faith, but for the faith of their parents, church or community. In some cases, persecutors have harmed children in an effort to pressure their parents to renounce their faith.

The report notes that the impact of religious persecution on a child’s psychological health is a significant concern in considering the impact of religious persecution on children. Children who experience extremely distressing events can suffer psychological trauma. Especially traumatic is the disappearance of a parent.

It is important to recognize that in many cases of religious persecution, children witness and experience horrific events whose meanings cannot be interpreted at the time because of the child’s limited cognitive framework. Children cannot be expected to have developed the necessary coping mechanisms to deal with such tragedies, regardless of background. Moreover, not all child victims of persecution have a support network to turn to in their suffering; sometimes that network dies before their eyes in that traumatic event.

Government restrictions on religion compared to social hostility by non-governmental actors

Our response must be one that takes responsibility for the protection of children. In our civil society, that also means engaging with government to seek such protections within our borders and beyond. In order to protect the mental health of children, the international community must seek to eliminate religious persecution altogether.

The report explains that the international community has agreed that the protection of children’s rights is a concern that must be addressed collectively. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was established in 1989 to be a major international safeguard of children’s rights and has been ratified by nearly all states. Its formation represents the need to recognize that “children are citizens today,” and not just investments in the future.

Moreover, the international community agrees that in meeting the needs of children, we are meeting the
needs of society at large. This was conveyed by young people at the General Assembly of the United Nations at the Special Session on Children in May 2002 when they said, “We want a world fit for children, because a world fit for us is a world fit for everyone."

A world fit for children is one that upholds freedom of religion. The Convention contains a number of articles pertinent to situations where children suffer religious persecution. This includes Article 3, which states:
"In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."

Religious persecution is never in the best interests of the child and the Convention should serve as impetus for the international community to address situations in which religious persecution occurs. Article 14 requires state parties to “respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

While acknowledging that children are meant to be guided by their parents in their beliefs, this article highlights that children have as much right to choose what to think and believe, as well as to practice their beliefs without undue interference by others. In other words, they should be free to practice their faith and, if they so desire, to convert.

In some countries conversion is a problem for many minorities

Where religious persecution of minority groups occurs, Article 30 is particularly helpful: "In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language."

In addition, the Convention addresses the protection of children after they have already suffered persecution. Article 39 on the rehabilitation of child victims states: "Children who have been neglected, abused or exploited should receive special help to physically and psychologically recover and reintegrate into society. Particular attention should be paid to restoring the health, self respect and dignity of the child."

With this direction, the report suggests that governments should seek to provide adequate care for children who have experienced neglect, abuse or exploitation because of religious persecution. Governments should also give careful consideration to child victims of persecution who are seeking asylum within their borders, prioritizing the restoration and protection of their well-being.

The religious freedom of various countries compared 

The report concludes that the protection of children’s rights requires the active cooperation of states and international bodies in enforcing these laws. A lack of cooperation in this area remains an obstacle to effective protection of children’s rights. Violations of the Convention continue to go unaddressed in many countries. At the same time, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child remains a central mechanism in the international pursuit to safeguard the rights of children worldwide.

While this report focuses especially on the persecution of Christian children, I have widened the problem to include all children who are persecuted because of their faith or that of their parents or communities. The UN has properly recognized the wide scope of this problem and has sought to address it. 

Religious persecution must stop, especially the persecution of children because they are the most vulnerable members of any society. In the words of the young people themselves, “We want a world fit for children, because a world fit for us is a world fit for everyone."

Such a world is one where religious freedom is possible for everyone, young or old, male or female, and no matter what their faith is. That is not yet the case, unfortunately, but we must strive for it in whatever we can. Children should never be persecuted because of their faith, and they must always have the freedom to chose their faith freely. For their sake, therefore, we must put a stop to all forms religious persecution, but that is not always easy to do, especially when various conceptions of religious freedom collide. Yet try we must.

Religious freedom is not always easy to pin down; sometimes it is called religious persecution

1 comment:

  1. Licentiousness is a form of freedom. It runs contrary to the values of Christian's who get their values from scripture.
    Scriptural values do not change just to match the smell of a decaying society.
    Persecution results from those with floating moral values wanting to legitimize the stench of decay.