A groundbreaking new report by watchdog group Christian Solidarity Worldwide has exposed the atrocities Christian children face at school in several countries, from being forcibly converted to other faiths to being beaten and humiliated by teachers for daring to speak out.
CSW explained in its "Faith and a Future" report shared with The Christian Post Thursday that it has conducted research in five countries, namely Burma, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, where students of various faiths, not only Christians, face religious hatred, including psychological and physical abuse from other students and teachers.
"The psychological impact of abuse received by children at school cannot be overstated. Many interviewees told CSW of the 'mental torture' they have suffered as a result of religious discrimination and intolerance in educational settings. Rejected by their peers and teachers, this suffering can have lasting consequences," the report states.
CSW pointed out that in Burma, where Buddhist nationalism has targeted both Christian and Islamic minorities, Christian children are "regularly forcibly converted" at schools.
"This is particularly prevalent in Chin, Naga and Kachin States where poor families are often offered the opportunity to send their children away for a 'free education.' The children are then taken to a Buddhist monastery or monastic school (Na Ta La school) without their parents' permission, and forced to regularly participate in Buddhist worship or even to become novice monks," the report continues.
Christian children there are "systematically prevented from practicing the religion in which they were raised and are effectively required to convert to Buddhism."
While Nigeria is largely divided between its Christian and Muslim populations, followers of Christ in areas under Sharia (Islamic) law have seen their children abducted, forcibly converted and forced into Islamic marriages.
"Parents seeking the release of their abducted daughters are generally informed they have converted and married, or are in the custody of Muslim traditional rulers or shari'a commissions and have no desire to return home," the report explains.
"Appeals to law enforcement agencies for assistance generally prove fruitless amid false claims by abductors that the girls are not minors, and fear on the part of the police of provoking large-scale social unrest."
CSW shared of one specific case study in 2010 at Unity School in Kachako, where Christian students were interrogated and abused in a variety of different ways after being falsely accused of insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The students were apparently told by teachers to use the hallway as a toilet rather than be allowed to go to the bathroom.
When one girl, named Grace, complained and said that she was "tired of this rubbish," a teacher reported her to the principal.
"Grace was taken from the room, beaten with a whip made of animal hide, and her hair was shaved off. The others were called to see what had happened to her, and told, 'You heard what Grace said? She will find out what 'rubbish' really means on Monday, when the results of the investigation come out. Anyone who insults God, either their throats will be cut or they'll be burnt to death, or they'll be expelled from school,'" the report describes.
The Christian students, facing severe death threats, broke out of the school and managed to flee, never to return.
In Iran, which discriminates heavily against minorities, including people of the Baha'i faith, Christian students are told that they must take Islamic studies or be forced to repeat the school year, the watchdog group said.
In other places, like Mexico, Christians were found to be persecuting other Christians — such as the dominant Roman Catholic denomination restricting Protestant worship and driving out Protestant families from villages.
"In December 2015 local leaders prohibited the Protestants from reading the Bible after Roman Catholic priests complained about their practices," CSW said of some examples.
"In February 2016, the authorities banned the Protestants from holding religious activities on community property, claiming the land could not be used for activities of other religions since it had already been used to celebrate Roman Catholic Mass. Death threats have recently been made against some of the Protestant leaders."
The treatment of Christian students, along with Ahmadi, Hindu, and Sikh minorities in Pakistan was also found to be appalling. The report shows that Christians are often mocked and "mentally tortured" at school because of their religious beliefs.
Believers are accused of worshiping idols and told that all non-Muslims are infidels, threatened with severe punishments if accused of commuting blasphemy, cases showed.
One Christian student by the name of Jacob shared of the taunts he received by his Muslim peers:
"You're not supposed to drink from the same cup as us. You're not supposed to sit at the same desk as us. You're not supposed to use the same glass as us, play with us, and sit beside us at the same desk — because you're kafir," he was told.
"Faith and a Future" features a list of recommendations for United Nations member states, calling for "full ratification and implementation of relevant international treaties embedding the right to education and the right to freedom of religion or belief."
It also asks for governments to enforce legislation prohibiting discriminatory practices, and for proactive efforts in addressing intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, among other points.