The Issue

No child should be punished for their faith.

In many countries across the world, children are facing discrimination at school, or are even being prevented from attending school, because of their religion or belief.

Christian children in northern Nigeria have to adopt Muslim names just to get into school.

Hindu children in Pakistan face psychological and physical abuse by classmates and teachers.

Rohingya Muslim children in Burma see their schools knocked down.

Jehovah’s Witness children in Mexico are barred from attending school by local authorities.

Baha’i children in Iran are physically and verbally abused by teachers.

Our vision is of a world in which every child is free to learn, whatever their religion. And where children are taught about our common humanity, rather than taught to hate.

My name is José Gabriel

I am a 12-year-old Christian.
I wish I could go to school but instead I spend all day inside.
We are here because some members of our community made trouble, telling my parents and others to renounce their Protestant faith. Their children began bullying me and my friends.
Our teachers were put under pressure not to include us and finally the school authorities banned us from going to school.
Eventually we had to flee our village, along with seven other families. Our homes and belongings were destroyed and we now live in a shelter together. We don’t have the paperwork we need to enrol in a new school, and local authorities won’t help us.
I stay inside, as it’s not safe to go out.

My name is Farzana Khan*

I am a 15-year-old Ahmadi Muslim. A few of the children in my school told the other students, “She is Ahmadi, don’t play with her or eat with her, and stop treating her normally.’’
They punished me, they used to strike me with sticks, and tell me not to sit with the other kids.
I haven’t told anyone in my new school that I am Ahmadi.
*Name changed for security reasons.

Stopping hatred before it stops

From Burma to Nigeria, religious hatred is tearing communities apart. Yet education has the power to tackle hatred before it can take root.

Education can:

foster tolerance

provide opportunities

or

fuel extremism

reinforce disadvantage

“Education … can be the bulwark against extremist ideologies, sectarianism, discrimination and stereotypes.”

USCIRF, 2015

How children experience religious discrimination at school

Pressure to Convert

Children are promised:

  • Free schooling
  • Friendship
  • Help with studies
  • Better grades

No Access

Reduced Resources

Minority faith communities are deprived of teachers and resources

Abduction

Girls are abducted, forced to convert and marry

Lost Identity

Students are forced change their name to hide their background

Terrorism

Schools are destroyed and teachers killed. Children are used as soldiers and suicide bombers

Abuse

Misinformation

Children of religious leaders are bullied to get to their parents

Segregation

Children are made to sit separately and use separate cups and soap

Violence

Children are beaten

Bias

Censorship

National heroes from minority communities disappear from textbooks.

Disinformation

Textbooks contain false statements about minority faiths and foster religious hatred.

Partiality

Children are marked down because of their faith

An under-reported issue

The international community recognises how vital education is for children’s futures, and is working towards eliminating barriers such as poverty, gender-based discrimination, and conflict.

Yet a major barrier has received very little attention: a child’s religion or belief.

For example, the Sustainable Development Goals commit to ‘leave no one behind’ – but there’s been almost no focus on those who are being left behind because of their faith.

Change begins here

The Faith and a Future campaign seeks to raise awareness of this serious but neglected issue, and inspire action to address it.

This campaign focuses initially on two countries, Pakistan and Nigeria, where religious discrimination in education is particularly problematic.

Our report, Faith and a Future: Discrimination on the Basis of Religion or Belief in Education, contains analysis of the situation in five countries: Burma, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Pakistan

Between the late 1970s and 1980s Pakistan’s president, General Zia ul-Haq, began a sustained campaign to make Islam synonymous with national identity. Among other things the school syllabus was redesigned to include an intolerance of religious minorities.

“Our curriculum must ensure that our children are brought up educated as good Pakistanis and good Muslims. They must imbibe the lofty ideals and principles of Islam.”


General Zia ul-Haq

A textbook case of discrimination

Each day children are taught from textbooks that encourage hatred and violence towards people who don’t follow the majority faith. For example, Hindus are described as ‘enemies of Pakistan’, and the country’s history has been rewritten to remove the contributions of religious minorities.

My name is Amira*

I am a teacher.
I was brought up with the feeling that being a Christian, I have done nothing (for) Pakistan. Christians have been brought up with this feeling that they do not belong here.
*Name changed for security reasons.

“Studies… have often identified school textbooks as a factor leading to warfare or genocide. Failure to address such issues can thus be deadly.”

Katarina Tomaševski, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, 1 February 2000

Abuse in the classroom

Each day children are taught from textbooks that encourage hatred and violence towards people who don’t follow the majority faith. For example, Hindus are described as ‘enemies of Pakistan’, and the country’s history has been rewritten to remove the contributions of religious minorities.

My name is Gurinder Singh*

I’m 17 years old and Sikh.
I loved my studies, but I was forced to leave school in 8th grade (aged 15) with no qualifications. One teacher would beat me with a stick approximately twice a week from age four to age six. After that the manner of the abuse changed. As well as physical punishment, I was mentally abused and humiliated by consistently being told to convert.
I couldn’t cope any more with the pressure my classmates and teachers put on me to leave my language, culture and traditions, and convert.
*Name changed for security reasons.

My name is Jacob Gill*

I'm 17 years old and a Christian.
I was taunted: 'You're not supposed to use the same glass as us, play with us, sit behind us at the same desk - because you're kafir (an unbeliever).' I had my own glass, even my own soap.
They said if I converted, I would be sent abroad to study, given financial support and government jobs, and would become a part of a higher social class.
I got mentally disturbed. I thought that I had to give up. But then I thought, 'No, I must raise my voice for my nation and for myself.'
*Name changed for security reasons.

Effecting Change in Pakistan

Help us to

  • Ensure that education funding from the UK, US and other donors is not spent on publishing biased textbooks which fuel prejudice, but is used instead to encourage tolerance, peace and unity.

  • Ensure that donors actively support educational and interfaith initiatives that promote understanding and tolerance between religious groups.

  • Ensure that Pakistan’s education bodies include the accomplishments of heroes from minority faith communities in textbooks. We want children from these communities to realise that they too are citizens of Pakistan and have a part to play in building their country.

Flickr (cc) jenny downing

Nigeria

In April 2014, close to 200 girls were kidnapped from a school in Chibok, Borno State, where they were gathered for important exams.

For a short time, #BringBackOurGirls dominated the news cycle. Yet this is just one of countless cases of abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion that occur each year.

And terrorism and abduction are only two of many ways in which religious discrimination impacts negatively on children’s education in northern Nigeria.

Abduction, forced marriage and conversion

In recent years, there has been a strong focus by the international community on ensuring the right to education of Muslim girls from deeply conservative homes in northern Nigeria.

However, one issue often goes unreported: Christian girls whose education is frequently cut short by abduction, forcible conversion and underage marriage without parental consent.

Neglect of minority comnunities

In more remote areas of central and northern Nigeria, state governments often neglect the educational needs of children from religious minority communities, leaving them woefully inadequate teaching and resources.

My name is Habiba Isiyaku

I am from Wawar Kaza village in Kankara, Katsina State.
I was 14 years old and on my way home from school in August 2016, when men abducted me. At that time, I had just passed my Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination (JSSCE) with flying colours, and was starting Senior Secondary School.
I was forced to convert and to marry my abductor, Jamilu Lawal, with the alleged endorsement of the Emir of Katsina, Alhaji (Dr) Abdulmumini Kabir Usman. My father went to the Emir and begged for my return, but was humiliated and rejected.

My name is Peace*

I am 15 years old and live in Kwate village, in Kaduna State. It’s one of two Christian communities for miles around.
Although my village is only seven miles away from the state capital, the road is so bad that it takes an hour and a half to reach it by car. The road also crosses a river, which becomes impassable when it rains (the bridge was washed away and hasn’t been rebuilt).
Most of the 80 children in my village don’t go to school. And the few who complete primary school don’t go on to secondary school.
The nearby Unguwan Kanti primary school has only one teacher for 150 students. The other teacher lives in the capital and rarely turns up so we only had lessons every other day. The building gets very dusty, because there are no windows or doors and until recently students sat on ground. Seven of us decided to go to a school an hour’s walk away instead, where there are eight teachers for around 200 students (but which also means crossing the river). When the river rises, we can’t go and are marked absent.
I’m still not able to read. I wish the road could be made passable and the bridge rebuilt, so teachers can reach my community.
*Name changed for security reasons.

Terrorism, violence and discrimination

One of Boko Haram’s key beliefs is that western education is a threat to Islam. Consequently, the Islamic State (IS, Daesh) affiliate has frequently targeted schools, killing teachers and pupils alike. According to UNICEF, Boko Haram has destroyed almost 1,400 schools and murdered over 2,295 teachers since 2009.

In several Shari’a states, Christian parents say their children have had to adopt Muslim-sounding names – and even adopt Muslim practices at school – in order to receive state education.

Atheists also report some cases of discrimination at school and, although discrimination against Muslims appears less common, some cases have been reported in southern states, including a ban (since overturned) on wearing the hijab.

Effecting Change in Nigeria

Help us to

  • Ensure that state governments improve access roads to minority faith communities in villages like Kwate, so that teachers can reach them easily; and resource schools adequately.

  • Protect girls from minority communities, by ensuring that abductions are investigated immediately, girls are returned to their families and perpetrators are prosecuted.

Helps us build a world where every child can have both faith and a future.