A school compound in East Afrca. Many children face bias in education, discrimination and abuse because of their religion or the beliefs of their parents. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
A new report recorded “discrimination, verbal abuse, physical violence and even forced conversion at school because of children’s religion or belief”. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

A new report highlights the ways in which schoolchildren and their families experience religious discrimination and calls for it to end.

The report, ‘Discrimination on the Basis of Religion or Belief in Education’, by advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), explores violations of religious freedom in schools in Myanmar, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The report records “discrimination, verbal abuse, physical violence and even forced conversion at school because of their religion or belief”, directed both at children and their families.

World Watch Monitor reported in September last year how Christian children in two large Iranian cities were told to either study Shia Islam or leave school. CSW was told that in this case “the message is clear: convert or leave”.

Discrimination and intolerance

Bias in education is just one of several problems, says the report: “Biased education, including intolerance from teachers and discrimination in text books, creates a toxic mix, leaving students from minority religious communities isolated and reviled”.

Other violations include discrimination and intolerance that stops children from accessing education because of their religion or the beliefs of their parents, and life-long trauma caused by the abuse children experience at school.

Some schoolchildren are killed because of their faith. In Pakistan this is often done on the pretext of a “blasphemy” accusation. In April last year, for example, a mob of students stormed the hostel where Mashal Khan, a university student, was staying. They stripped him naked and beat him repeatedly before shooting him and throwing him from the second floor, after he was alleged to have posted content on Facebook that was “blasphemous” against Islam.

The report points out that “while the right to education has generated significant interest in the international community, the right to FoRB [Freedom of Religion or Belief] in educational settings has received insufficient attention”.

However, children “have a right to a faith and a future”, according to CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas, who says countries, as well as the international community, should ensure children can enjoy religious freedom, and remain free from discrimination, in schools.