A guest blog by the Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP.
The Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP is Conservative Member of Parliament for Meriden and Second Church Estates Commissioner. In May 2018 she met with Rev Yunusa Nmadu, CEO of CSW Nigeria and CSW UK’s Parliamentary Officer, Alice Braybrook to discuss freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria.
Today is the 15th birthday of Leah Sharibu. But, unlike most young girls around the world, she will be spending her birthday in captivity.
On 19 February 2018, Leah was among 110 girls who were abducted from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, north eastern Nigeria, by the al-Barnawi faction of Boko Haram. The oldest abductees were 18 years of age; the youngest were 11.
On 21 March 2018, over a month after their capture, Boko Haram returned 105 of the girls to Dapchi, following negotiations with the government. Five had reportedly died during the arduous journey to Boko Haram’s hideout.
However, returnees confirmed that Leah Sharibu, the sole Christian among them, remained in captivity due to her refusal to convert and wear a hijab. Her friends said they begged her to feign conversion so they could all leave together. However, a tearful Leah is reported to have informed them she could not live with herself if she did so. She also asked them to tell her mother, Rebecca Sharibu, to pray for the will of God to be done in her life. In a comment to Nigerian media her father Nathan Sharibu said: “They gave her the option of converting in order to be released but she said she will never become a Muslim. I am very sad… but I’m also jubilating too because my daughter did not denounce Christ.”
A child’s right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is guaranteed under international law. Yet children and young people in several countries across the world experience discrimination because of their religion or belief, including in educational settings.
For example, Christian children in northern Nigeria are often obliged to adopt Muslim names in order to access education. Hindu children in Pakistan face psychological and physical abuse from classmates and teachers. Rohingya Muslim children in Burma witness their schools being knocked down. Baha’i children in Iran are regularly abused physically and verbally by teachers.
“I was beaten with sticks approximately twice a week throughout nursery and prep. After that the manner of the abuse changed. As well as physical punishment, I was mentally abused and tortured by consistently being told to convert.”
Gurinder Singh, Sikh, Pakistan, 17 years old
The right to education, like the right to FoRB, ‘is crucial to the realization of a wide array of other human rights.’ Education can facilitate social mobility, or entrench disadvantage. It can assist in creating a culture of tolerance, or contribute towards fuelling stereotyping, intolerance and extremism.
With this in mind, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has produced a new report entitled Faith and a Future: Discrimination on the Basis of Religion or Belief in Education. Through verified case studies and in depth research in five countries spanning five geographical regions, this report seeks to stimulate vital conversations, encouraging further research and necessary action to address religious discrimination in educational settings.
Many newspapers across the world today have chosen as their main image a photograph of a five year-old Syrian boy who has just survived an airstrike. Like that of another little Syrian boy called Aylan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea last year, the image has gone viral.
It appears that once again the image of a Syrian child has pricked the world’s collective conscience, igniting renewed efforts to alleviate the suffering of Syrian civilians.
The Syrian conflict has a prominent sectarian aspect for which the battle for Aleppo is almost a microcosm, with the government and Shi’a militia on one side, and the largely-Islamist armed opposition groups on the other.
Within this complex picture, civilians from all sides are increasingly vulnerable as none of the warring parties have shown commitment to or respect for international humanitarian law, especially in terms of non-combatants, freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) and other human rights.
Aleppo, the second largest city in Syria used to have 4 million inhabitants. Today nearly half are displaced, either internally or externally.
The city has been a battlefield since 2012, and as the overall situation in Syria has deteriorated relentlessly, attention on the suffering of its inhabitants has ebbed and flowed dependent on fresh atrocities.