To safeguard children’s mental health during COVID-19, parents must look after their own



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Sarah Whittle, University of Melbourne and Kate Bray, University of Melbourne

The negative mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are clear, but there is particular concern children will be most affected in the long run.

By the end of March school closures were impacting 91% of the world’s student population and are still affecting more than 60%. These closures limit children’s opportunities for important social interactions, which can harm their mental health.

In particular, home confinement, fears of infection, family stress and financial loss may have negative effects on the mental health of young people. And research carried out earlier in the pandemic suggested these effects may be most pronounced for children with pre-existing mental health problems.

Which children are most at risk?

Parents have an important role to play in safeguarding children’s mental health during COVID-19.

Research shows family relationships are more influential during situations that cause stress over an extended period of time than during acute periods of stress. This means family factors are likely to be even more important to childrens’ mental health during COVID-19 than during more fleeting traumatic experiences such as exposure to a natural disaster.

Parents and their child sitting on a park bench, wearing masks.
The family is most influential during situations that cause stress over an extended period of time.
Shutterstock

In our recent study, we found 81% of children aged 5-17 had experienced at least one trauma symptom during the early phase of COVID-19. For instance, some children had trouble sleeping alone, or acted unusually young or old for their age.

Our unpublished research relied on reports from parents from Australia and the United Kingdom. We also found increases in emotional problems were common. For instance, according to their parents 29% of children were more unhappy than they were before COVID-19.

Importantly, our study found several parent and family factors that were important in predicting changes in children’s mental health problems.

Here are four of our main findings.




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Number of Australia’s vulnerable children is set to double as COVID-19 takes its toll


1. Parents’ distress matters

Increased personal distress reported by parents was related to increases in their child’s mental health problems during COVID-19. This distress refers to both general stress in addition to COVID-specific worry and distress. It also includes anxiety related to problems that existed before COVID-19.

For this reason it’s important parents look after their own mental health and stress levels. Seeking psychological help is a good option for parents who are struggling to cope.

Through a GP referral, Australians can receive ten sessions of psychological care per year through Medicare. Victorians who are currently subjected to further restrictions can now receive up to 20 sessions.

A woman with her head in her hand while her children jump on a couch.
If you’re a parent struggling during the pandemic, there’s help available. Though Medicare you can receive 10 sessions of psychological care, or 20 sessions is you’re a Victorian.
Shutterstock

2. Good family relationships help

Higher levels of parental warmth and family cohesion were associated with fewer trauma symptoms in children. “Parental warmth” refers to being interested in what your child does, or encouraging them to talk to you about what they think; “family cohesion” relates to family members helping and supporting each other.

In other research these factors have consistently been found to relate to children’s adjustment to stress and trauma.




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Fortunately, there is a range of resources parents can use to help improve relationships with their children.

Some parents may also find taking part in a parenting course helpful. Partners in Parenting, Triple P and Tuning into Kids are available online.

3. Parents’ optimism can be contagious

Daughter and mother smiling at each other
Children observe their parent’s behaviour – if you can try to see the silver lining your children might too.
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While COVID-19 is having many negative impacts, some parents in our study also identified unexpected positive impacts, such as being able to spend more time with family. Children of these parents were less likely to experience an increase in some problems – particularly problems with peers such as being bullied.

Children observe parents’ behaviours and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions during difficult times. Trying to stay positive, or focus on the bright side as much as possible is likely to benefit children.




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4. Some effects are greatest for vulnerable families

We found parents’ behaviour was particularly influential in lower socioeconomic backgrounds and single-parent families. In poorer families, parental warmth was particularly important in buffering children’s trauma symptoms. And in single-parent families, parental stress was more likely to predict behavioural problems in children.

This may be because poorer and single-parent families already face more stress, which can negatively impact children. Parental warmth can counteract the effects of these stresses, whereas high parental stress levels can increase them.

Research has already shown the pandemic will have greater negative impacts on those who have less resources available to them. This points to a need for extra psychological and financial support for these families. Governments and other organisations will need to take this into account when targeting their support packages.




Read more:
8 tips on what to tell your kids about coronavirus


It’s important to keep in mind child-parent relationships are a two-way street. Our research examined relationships at only one point in time, so we don’t know the extent to which our findings reflect a) parents causing changes in their children’s mental health, or b) changes in children’s mental health impacting parents, or the way a family functions. Research needs to follow children and their families over time to tease apart these possibilities.

Given prevention is always better than cure, parents and families should seek help early to build the right foundations to safeguard the mental health of their children.The Conversation

Sarah Whittle, Associate Professor in Psychiatry, University of Melbourne and Kate Bray, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

For First Nations people, coronavirus has meant fewer services, separated families and over-policing: new report



MICK TSIKAS/AAP

Lorana Bartels, Australian National University and Thalia Anthony, University of Technology Sydney

Yesterday was National Sorry Day in Australia. It marks the anniversary of the tabling of the Bringing Them Home report, which chronicles decades of removals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

Sorry Day also acknowledges the strength of the Stolen Generations survivors and reflects on the role everyone can play in healing our country.

Yesterday was also the third anniversary of the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which poignantly notes:

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

And this week is National Reconciliation Week, which represents a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements. The theme this year is “In This Together”.




Read more:
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Findings of a new report

However, a new report released today makes clear the treatment of First Australians during the COVID-19 outbreak is not the same as for non-Indigenous Australians.

The report by Change the Record, the First Peoples-led justice coalition of peak bodies and allies, highlights numerous ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been disproportionately affected by the more punitive and restrictive policy responses to the pandemic.

Among the findings were:

  • First Nations people have experienced an increased use of lockdowns in prisons and have had reduced access to lawyers and visits from families

  • some prisons have required people in prison “to pay exorbitant fees to call loved ones”

  • victim-survivors of family violence have been unable to access police protection and support services due to staffing shortages (a particular concern because there is evidence such violence is increasing)

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services have reported “substantial challenges” in working with their clients and are concerned about a spike in legal demand as soon as restrictions are lifted

  • the closures of residential drug and alcohol facilities have led to people being sent home, leaving some people without alternative and safe living arrangements

  • First Nations parents have had access to their children in out-of-home care restricted, causing “distress and anxiety in a time of heightened stress for everyone”

  • there has been over-policing of First Nations people for offences such as public nuisance, public drunkenness, fare evasion and failure to comply with move on orders. There have been high numbers of fines issued in small towns with high First Nations populations and low levels of COVID-19.

Governments’ COVID-19 prison policies have been inadequate

As we have argued in open letters to governments and elsewhere, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in prisons has been a concern requiring immediate action across the country.

First Nations people are particularly at risk of infection, due to:

Accordingly, we have called on governments to release some prisoners early, including First Nations people.

The government response to prevent the spread of coronavirus in prisons has included restrictions on visitors (especially family members), enforced isolation and lockdowns of people.

These circumstances have created unrest in prisons and likely contributed to three recent deaths in Queensland prisons.




Read more:
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The Change the Record report chronicles the despair of First Nations people in prisons and their lack of access to services and support.

An Aboriginal man, Daniel, has been remanded in prison in Tasmania since early 2020. … Daniel is not allowed any visits with his family or his lawyer because of COVID-19 restrictions. He reports feeling lost in the legal proceedings because he cannot have a decent chat with his lawyer about the matters and get advice.

The report makes recommendations for people in prisons, including:

  • the release of First Nations people in prisons who are low-risk, on remand, elderly or at increased risk of COVID-19, as well as children and those with chronic health conditions

  • protecting the human rights of First Nations people in prison, by ensuring access to oversight and monitoring agencies, family, legal services, mental health care, education and programs

The impact of COVID-19 restrictions on children

Some of the invisible victims in the pandemic are the children of prisoners. Imprisonment disrupts family life, especially in cases when a First Nations mother or primary caregiver is incarcerated.

Because physical visits have been suspended, children’s access to their imprisoned parents has been even more constrained.




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This has life-long and intergenerational effects on individuals and communities. It can also lead to the permanent placement of children in state care.

The Change the Record report also notes how First Nations parents are unable to visit with their children in out-of-home care.

Julia had been having multiple face-to-face visits with her child every week. Due to COVID-19, Julia’s contact with her daughter has been reduced to one phone/video call a week. … When children cannot engage in this mode of communication, for some parents contact with their children has stopped all together.

The report makes recommendations for policies affecting children during the pandemic, including:

  • increasing support and access to safe accommodation for First Nations families fleeing family violence to stop further removals of children

  • implement legislative changes to ensure parents of First Nations children in out-of-home care don’t lose their children to permanent care during COVID-19.

The report also calls for:

  • rebuilding our justice system after COVID-19 to focus on investing in community, not prisons, to increase community safety and prevent black deaths in custody.

No return to status quo

We endorse these recommendations, especially the final call to rebuild our justice system. As we emerge from the immediate threat of the pandemic, it is vital that we not return to the status quo.

More than two years ago, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Pathways to Justice report was tabled in parliament. It outlined a comprehensive blueprint for reducing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander over-incarceration.

The Australian government is yet to respond.

If Reconciliation Week is to be meaningful, governments must take action to heal, rather than jail, First Nations people. In the current circumstances, this includes acting on Change the Record’s recommendations.The Conversation

Lorana Bartels, Professor and Program Leader of Criminology, Australian National University and Thalia Anthony, Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why coronavirus may forever change the way we care within families



AAP/Maria Zsoldos

Leah Ruppanner, University of Melbourne; Brendan Churchill, University of Melbourne, and William Scarborough, University of North Texas

The global spread of COVID-19 has illuminated the “care crisis” that has been building for decades.

Women, through their unpaid housework, childcare and elder care, have kept families functioning. However, COVID-19 is putting a strain on women’s abilities to keep the cogs of daily life turning. We are now starting to see the impact of what happens when women are unable to do it all.

What is the care crisis?

For decades, scholars have warned that the bulk of the unpaid domestic work carried by women is unsustainable. The ageing of populations across Western nations will add to the burden even more as women care for elderly parents, spouses, friends and family. This will in turn significantly reduce the employment pool and add strain on those providing the care.




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Mothers do almost twice as much housework as fathers, even when they are earning most of the family income. Greater time in housework is at the expense of their time in employment, leisure and sleep.

Without free childcare or flexible work, families are patching together a tenuous web of caregivers and family members to smooth before- and after-school transitions and to tend to sick children. COVID-19 exposes our care system as being held together by a thread, based on the unpaid and perpetual labour of women.

For decades, researchers have shown women are stressed, pressed and emotionally unwell from the constant struggle to manage these competing demands. The data are clear – women’s larger share of the care is making them sick.

Once COVID-19 started to spread, the world changed dramatically. Now, the invisible unpaid work started to become visible. And someone has to do it.

Worried about childcare? What our searches can teach us

To better understand how childcare during coronavirus is worrying Australian parents, we draw data from Google searches over the past 30 days from the United States and Australia. The US is further along in the coronavirus journey, so can offer some insights into how worry about the virus changes over time.

At first, Americans were more concerned about the economy. But as schools, workplaces and non-essential services start to shut down, the threat of the care crisis has emerged – the concentration of Google searches for coronavirus that include “daycare” and “elderly” intensifies. The work is coming home. Who is now going to do it?



Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Australia is now preparing more aggressive social-isolation measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, with school and non-essential service closures reported only this week and only in some states.

However, Australia, too, has been slow to respond and the federal government has resisted school closures in part because 30% of healthcare workers in Australia are women. What will happen to this group of workers if they have to look after their children and those affected by COVID-19?

Do all states exhibit the same worry?

Across the US, trends in search terms vary dramatically across states. In the past week, searches in most states have been concentrated on how coronavirus will impact the economy.

But something interesting is happening to the states in the middle of the country – Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota. In these states, searches for daycare and coronavirus are more common than searches related to coronavirus and the economy, grocery stores and the elderly.



Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Our research shows mothers in these states have access to better childcare resources – more affordable childcare, longer school days and more expansive after-school care. A forthcoming book, Motherlands, shows mothers in these states are more likely to work full-time, including right before and right after childbirth. These states are exemplars, offering parents the best childcare resources.




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But what happens for families in these states when everything shuts down?

When we dig a little deeper, we see searches for daycare centres being open during coronavirus soared by 100%. Questions about whether those centres will charge fees even while closed increased by 400%. Nebraskans are also worried about their financial futures, but theirs are more tightly linked to daycare.



Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Over the past week, Australians are increasing their searches of daycare, with some regional variation. People in Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Victoria are most likely to ask Google about daycare. Families in these states average 31 hours of weekly childcare, or equivalent to another full-time job – time that families will have to fill.

What is the future of care?

COVID-19 will be devastating in its effect on our health, families and economy. But, as we face this new brave world together, it is important to understand the role of caregiving and the importance of carers in this crisis.

To date, women have done this work freely for families. But now the burden is too big and we need to see this work for what it is – important, essential and of great economic value. Individuals can use this as an opportunity to try something new, but also take stock of what we value as a society.

It is an opportunity to realise that the unpaid labour of grandparents and women is not enough – we need real solutions for a problem that, until now, has remained invisible.The Conversation

Leah Ruppanner, Associate Professor in Sociology and Co-Director of The Policy Lab, University of Melbourne; Brendan Churchill, Research Fellow in Sociology, University of Melbourne, and William Scarborough, , University of North Texas

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pensioners and families: who is worse off under Coalition budgets?



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Robert Tanton, University of Canberra; Hai Anh La, University of Canberra, and Jinjing Li, University of Canberra

Sole parent families have suffered most from the Coalition government’s recent tax and welfare changes, our analysis shows. We compared the impact of taxes and welfare in the Coalition and Labor budgets on different families over eight years.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/kGboi/4/

The impact of Coalition tax and welfare changes on sole parent families can mainly be attributed to the various tweaks in the rules for Family Tax Benefit A since 2014, and the Single Income Family Supplement becoming unavailable to new families from 2017. Other measures that affected these families were the removal of the Family Tax Benefit B indexation, and a reduction (after inflation is taken into account) in the childcare rebate.




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The families we have chosen for our analysis are typical of those we might see in our community. We have also assumed they earn the national average income if they work. Our calculations adjust living costs to 2017 levels so that the incomes are comparable.

It’s clear from our analysis that governments have used taxes and welfare spending to entice voters. Increases in welfare are common just before an election and cuts after governments are elected.

Our analysis also shows Coalition governments tend to be much more fiscally conservative in their tax and welfare policies than Labor governments. This is interesting given the Labor leader Bill Shorten’s pledge for budget repair, while the Turnbull government looks set to cut personal income taxes (although this is just before an election).

Under the previous Labor government, all families benefited from the tax and welfare system. In all years we looked at, sole parent families benefited the least and retirees benefited the most.

Budget impacts over time

What we see from the results of our modelling is that the Labor party increased welfare payments to families in the two budgets before the election in September 2013. All family types benefited from these changes, although retirees benefited the most in terms of the percent increase compared to their average income.

These changes consisted of an increase in the income limit before Youth Allowance payments start to reduce (2011 budget) and the Household Assistance Package. Also included was the start of the Clean Energy (Carbon Tax) Compensation Payment and an increase in the tax free threshold from A$6,000 to A$18,200 in 2012. The clean energy compensation package had a large effect on the retiree benefits.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/re2cG/4/

In the 2014 and 2015 budgets, the Coalition government cut spending, arguing it had inherited a high spending regime from the Labor party. This meant welfare cuts saw many families worse off.

Interestingly, while most average earning families were worse off after the 2014 budget, retirees were still better off. This was due to the indexation for pensions being greater than inflation, and supplements paid to pensioners, including the clean energy supplement.




Read more:
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The 2014 budget had some of the largest cuts to welfare payments. These included various changes to Family Tax Benefit A and B, imposing a temporary budget repair levy and introducing a Medicare levy increase from 1.5% to 2%.

In 2016 sole parent families were the losers in tax and welfare changes due to cessation of the Large Family Supplement; and the abolition of the Income Support Bonus and the Schoolkids Bonus. This budget was leading up to the election in July 2016.

Then last year’s budget showed lower welfare for families, with sole parents and retirees being worse off. For retirees, we found the impact of a slow pension rate increase and the non-indexed energy supplement means their living standards are stagnating.

Based on this historical data, and the fact that 2019 is an election year, we might expect to see welfare to families increased. We have already heard that there may be tax cuts in this budget.

The ConversationOne thing the Coalition might want to consider is how the different families are affected by any change in the tax and welfare system. We need to get a fairer allocation toward more vulnerable families.

Robert Tanton, Professor, University of Canberra; Hai Anh La, Senior Research Fellow, University of Canberra, and Jinjing Li, Associate Professor, NATSEM, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bangladesh: Latest Persecution News


The link below is to an article that reports on the latest persecution news from Bangladesh, with some truly sad news concerning the trafficking of children from Christian families.

For more visit:
http://www.persecution.org/2013/04/02/christian-children-rescued-from-islamic-training-centers-in-bangladesh-disappear/

Iran: Latest Persecution News


The link below is to an article on the latest persecution news out of Iran, which looks at how persecution in that country is impacting on the lives of families.

For more visit:
http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue16990.html

Suspected Drug Traffickers Kidnap Pastor


Michoacan state church leader abducted during Sunday service.

MEXICO CITY, April 15 (CDN) — Some 500 worshippers were gathered for last Sunday’s (April 10) worship service at the Christian Center El Shaddai in the Mexican city of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacan at about 8:15 a.m. when four masked men burst in firing machine guns into the air.

Before the frightened believers realized what was happening, their pastor, Josué Ramírez Santiago, had been whisked away. Divergent press reports indicated the kidnappers, suspected drug traffickers active in the state, were about 10 in number.

The following day, the pastor’s family received news that the criminals wanted a ransom of 20 million pesos (US$1.7 million). Even if the family could raise such an immense sum – considered doubtful – payment would not guarantee that the victim would be returned alive.

Arturo Farela, director of the National Fraternity of Evangelical Churches, has asserted that organized crime syndicates and drug cartels have targeted Christians because they view churches as revenue centers and because churches support programs for the rehabilitation of drug addicts and alcoholics.

“The majority of rehabilitation centers that have been attacked by organized crime in Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Tepic and other places belong to the evangelical community,” Farela said in a declaration regarding the kidnapping of Ramirez. “Furthermore, some 100 Mexican or foreign pastors who lived in Ciudad Juarez have had to abandon the city because of the threats and demands for money. And of course many pastors and their families have been victims of extortion, threats, kidnapping and homicide.”

Farela has stated that 100 Mexican clergymen have been kidnapped in recent years, with 15 of them losing their lives to organized crime. Asked if Compass could review his records of these crimes, Farela said he was not authorized to permit it.

In numerous other cases, children of pastors have been kidnapped, including one from Matehuala, San Luis Potosi, who has not been heard from for some six months. The college-age daughter of a prominent pastor in Mexico City was held by kidnappers for a week but was released when the criminals grew tired of the father’s prayers every time they telephoned him; the family has not revealed whether money was given for her return.

Michoacan, the state where the most recent abduction took place, has been a center of much criminal activity and also of severe reprisals by elements of the Mexican army. The state where President Felipe Calderon was born, Michoacan was the first to implement an anti-drug military operation that expanded to northern and eastern states.

In spite of the operation, more than 34,600 people nationwide have reportedly been assassinated since it was implemented in December 2006, with most of those crimes tied to drug traffickers “settling accounts.”

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Pakistani Christian Falsely Accused of ‘Blasphemy’ Illegally Detained


Policeman says Arif Masih, held at an undisclosed location, is innocent.

LAHORE, Pakistan, April 15 (CDN) — Police in Punjab Province, Pakistan have illegally detained a Christian on a “blasphemy” accusation, even though one officer said he was certain an area Muslim falsely accused 40-year-old Arif Masih because of a property dispute.

On April 5 Shahid Yousuf Bajwa, Masih’s next-door neighbor, initially filed a First Information Report (FIR) against “an unidentified person” for desecrating the Quran after finding threatening letters and pages with quranic verses on the street outside his home in Village 129 RB-Tibbi, Chak Jhumra, Faisalabad district. Desecrating the Quran under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes is punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

“Some identified person has desecrated the Holy Quran and has tried to incite sentiments of the Muslims,” Bajwa wrote in the FIR. Clearly stating that he did not know who had done it, he wrote, “It is my humble submission to the higher authorities that those found guilty must be given exemplary punishment.”

Bajwa charges in the FIR that when he went outside his home at 9 p.m. and found the pages, he looked at them by the light of his cell phone and thought they were pages of the Quran. Masih’s uncle, Amjad Chaudhry, told Compass the pages look like those of a school textbook containing quranic verses.

Chaudhry said Bajwa and his two brothers are policemen. After Bajwa found the pages and the threatening letters, Chaudhry said, he arranged for an announcement to be made from the loudspeaker of the area mosque.

“The message urged all the Muslims of the village to gather there due to the urgency and sensitivity of the matter,” Chaudhry said.

He said initially local Muslims were very angry and suggested that Christian homes be set ablaze, but that others said the Christians should be first given a chance to explain whether they were responsible.

“Then some Muslims began saying that because Arif Masih lived on this street, he would be the person who could have done this crime,” he said. “However, most of the people who gathered there said that they knew Arif Masih well and they could not imagine he could do such a vile thing. But others insisted that because Masih was the only Christian who lived on the street, only he could be suspected of the crime.”

At about 10 p.m. on April 5, Chaudhry said, Bajwa’s brother Abdullah Bajwa called Masih to the Siyanwala police station, where he was arrested; Masih’s family members were unaware that he had been arrested.

According to Section 61 of Pakistan’s Criminal Procedure Code, an arrested person must be produced within 24 hours before a court; Masih has been detained at an undisclosed location without a court appearance since April 5, with police failing to register his arrest in any legal document, making his detention illegal. Investigating Officer Qaisar Younus denied that Masih was in police custody, but Superintendent of the Police Abdul Qadir told Compass that Masih had been detained for his own safety.

Younus told Compass that he was sure Masih was innocent, but that he had been falsely accused because of a land dispute.

 

Property Conflict

According to Chaudhry, about two years ago Masih bought a plot next to his house that another villager, Liaquat Ali Bajwa (no relation to Shahid Yousuf Bajwa) wanted to buy – and who despised Masih for it, telling the previous owner, “How come a Christian can buy the plot that I wanted to buy?”

The parcel owner had given Masih preference as he knew him well, and he understood that the homeowner adjacent to the property had the first rights to it anyway.

At the same time, Ali Bajwa was able to seize about five square feet of the house of a Christian named Ghulam Masih after the wall of his home was destroyed in last year’s flooding. Feeling he was not in position to challenge Ali Bajwa, Ghulam Masih sold the land to Arif Masih so that he could take charge, Chaudhry said.

Arif Masih subsequently filed a civil suit against Ali Bajwa to evict him from his property. Chaudhry said Arif Masih was about to win that case, and that Ali Bajwa thought he could retain that property and obtain the one Arif Masih had purchased by accusing him of blasphemy with the help of police officer Shahid Yousuf Bajwa.

Ali Bajwa had been threatening Masih, saying, “You will not only give me this plot, but I will even take your house,” Chaudhry said.

Chaudhry said he had learned that Shahid Yousuf Bajwa felt badly after villagers criticized him for falsely accusing an innocent man of blasphemy, but that Bajwa feared that if he withdrew the case he himself would be open to blasphemy charges.

 

Neighbors

Arif Masih’s family has remained steadfast throughout the case, refusing to flee the area in spite of the possibility of Muslim villagers being incited to attack them, Chaudhry said.

“It all became possible because of Muslim villagers who sided with us,” he said.

Chaudhry said that when police arrived at the scene of the Muslims who had gathered with the pages and the threatening letters, the villagers told officers that they had not seen who threw them on the street. He said that the letters included the threat, “You Muslims have failed in doing any harm to us, and now I order you all to convert to Christianity or else I will shoot you all.”

The letters did not bear the name of the person who wrote them, he added.

On Monday (April 11), Chaudhry managed to meet with Masih, though Masih’s wife has yet to see him. Chaudhry told Compass that the first thing Masih asked him was whether everyone was safe, as there are only three Christian families in the area of about 150 Muslim homes.

“If the mob had decided to harm our houses, then it would have been very devastating,” Chaudhry said.

After Masih was arrested, at midnight police came to his house and began beating on the main gate, Chaudhry said. When Masih’s wife, Razia Bibi opened the door, the officers rushed into the house and searched it.

“They were looking for some proof, but thank God they could not find anything that could even be remotely linked with the incident,” he said.

Chaudhry added that police have not mistreated Masih, but he said the matter has lingered so long that he feared police may involve him in the case, or that “things may go wrong like in most blasphemy cases.”

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Religious Conversion Worst Form of ‘Intolerance,’ Bhutan PM Says


Propagation of religion is allowable – but not seeking conversions, top politician says.

THIMPHU, Bhutan, April 13 (CDN) — In the Kingdom of Bhutan, where Christianity is still awaiting legal recognition, Christians have the right to proclaim their faith but must not use coercion or claim religious superiority to seek conversions, the country’s prime minister told Compass in an exclusive interview.

“I view conversions very negatively, because conversion is the worst form of intolerance,” Jigmi Yoser Thinley said in his office in the capital of the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Christian leaders in Bhutan have told Compass that they enjoy certain freedoms to practice their faith in private homes, but, because of a prohibition against church buildings and other restrictions, they were not sure if proclamation of their faith – included in international human rights codes – was allowed in Bhutan.

Prime Minister Thinley, who as head of the ruling party is the most influential political chief in the country, said propagation of one’s faith is allowed, but he made it clear that he views attempts to convert others with extreme suspicion.

“The first premise [of seeking conversion] is that you believe that your religion is the right religion, and the religion of the convertee is wrong – what he believes in is wrong, what he practices is wrong, that your religion is superior and that you have this responsibility to promote your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of worship,” Thinley said. “It’s the worst form of intolerance. And it divides families and societies.”

Bhutan’s constitution does not restrict the right to convert or proselytize, but some Non-Governmental Organizations have said the government effectively limits this right by restricting construction of non-Buddhist worship buildings and celebration of some non-Buddhist festivals, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

It adds that Bhutan’s National Security Act (NSA) further limits proclamation of one’s faith by prohibiting “words either spoken or written, or by other means whatsoever, that promote or attempt to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste, or community, or on any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial, or language groups or castes and communities.” Violation of the NSA is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, though whether
any cases have been prosecuted is unknown, according to the State Department report.

Bhutan’s first democratic prime minister after about a century of absolute monarchy, Thinley completed three years in office last Thursday (April 7). While he affirmed that it is allowable for Christians to proclaim their faith – a practice commanded by Christ, with followers agreeing that it is the Holy Spirit, not man, that “converts” people – Thinley made his suspicions about Christians’ motives manifest.

“Any kind of proselytization that involves economic and material incentives [is wrong],” he said. “Many people are being converted on hospital beds in their weakest and most vulnerable moments. And these people are whispering in their ears that ‘there is no hope for you. The only way that you can survive is if you accept this particular religion.’ That is wrong.”

Thinley’s suspicions include the belief that Christians offer material incentives to convert.

“Going to the poor and saying, ‘Look, your religion doesn’t provide for this life, our religion provides for this life as well as the future,’ is wrong. And that is the basis for proselytization.”

Christian pastors in Thimphu told Compass that the perception that Bhutan’s Christians use money to convert the poor was flawed.

The pastors, requesting anonymity, said they prayed for healing of the sick because they felt they were not allowed to preach tenets of Christianity directly. Many of those who experience healing – almost all who are prayed for, they claimed – do read the Bible and then believe in Jesus’ teachings.

Asked if a person can convert if she or he believed in Christianity, the prime minister replied, “[There is] freedom of choice, yes.”

In his interview with Compass, Thinley felt compelled to defend Buddhism against assertions that citizens worship idols.

“To say that, ‘Your religion is wrong, worshiping idols is wrong,’ who worships idols?” he said. “We don’t worship idols. Those are just representations and manifestations that help you to focus.”

Leader of the royalist Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party, Thinley is regarded as a sincere politician who is trusted by Bhutan’s small Christian minority. He became the prime minister in April 2008 following the first democratic election after Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, abdicated power in 2006 to pave the way toward democracy.

Until Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2008, the practice of Christianity was believed to be banned in the country. The constitution now grants the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion to all citizens. It also states that the king is the protector of all religions.

Thus far, the Religious Organisations Act of 2007 has recognized only Buddhist and Hindu organizations. As a result, no church building or Christian bookstore has been allowed in the country, nor can Christians engage in social work. Christianity in Bhutan remains confined to the homes of local believers, where they meet for collective worship on Sundays.

Asked if a Christian federation should be registered by the government to allow Christians to function with legal recognition, Thinley said, “Yes, definitely.”

The country’s agency regulating religious organizations under the 2007 act, locally known as the Chhoedey Lhentshog, is expected to make a decision on whether it could register a Christian federation representing all Christians. The authority is looking into provisions in the law to see if there is a scope for a non-Buddhist and non-Hindu organization to be registered. (See http://www.compassdirect.com, “Official Recognition Eludes Christian Groups in Bhutan,” Feb. 1.)

On whether the Religious Organisations Act could be amended if it is determined that it does not allow legal recognition of a Christian federation, the prime minister said, “If the majority view and support prevails in the country, the law will change.”

Thinley added that he was partially raised as a Christian.

“I am part Christian, too,” he said. “I read the Bible, occasionally of course. I come from a traditional [Christian] school and attended church every day except for Saturdays for nine years.”

A tiny nation in the Himalayas between India and China, Bhutan has a population of 708,484 people, of which roughly 75 percent are Buddhist, according to Operation World. Christians are estimated to be between 6,000 to nearly 15,000 (the latter figure would put Christians at more than 2 percent of the population), mostly from the south. Hindus, mainly ethnic Nepalese, constitute around 22 percent of the population and have a majority in the south.

 

Religious ‘Competition’

Bhutan’s opposition leader, Lyonpo Tshering Togbay, was equally disapproving of religious conversion.

“I am for propagation of spiritual values or anything that allows people to be good human beings,” he told Compass. “[But] we cannot have competition among religions in Bhutan.”

He said, however, that Christians must be given rights equal to those of Hindus and Buddhists.

“Our constitution guarantees the right to freedom of practice – full stop, no conditions,” he said. “But now, as a small nation state, there are some realities. Christianity is a lot more evangelistic than Hinduism or Buddhism.”

Togbay said there are Christians who are tolerant and compassionate of other peoples, cultures and religions, but “there are Christians also who go through life on war footing to save every soul. That’s their calling, and it’s good for them, except that in Bhutan we do not have the numbers to accommodate such zeal.”

Being a small nation between India and China, Bhutan’s perceived geopolitical vulnerability leads authorities to seek to pre-empt any religious, social or political unrest. With no economic or military might, Bhutan seeks to assert and celebrate its sovereignty through its distinctive culture, which is based on Buddhism, authorities say.

Togbay voiced his concern on perceived threats to Bhutan’s Buddhist culture.

“I studied in a Christian school, and I have lived in the West, and I have been approached by the Jehovah’s Witness – in a subway, in an elevator, in a restaurant in the U.S. and Switzerland. I am not saying they are bad. But I would be a fool if I was not concerned about that in Bhutan,” he said. “There are other things I am personally concerned about. Religions in Bhutan must live in harmony. Too often I have come across people who seek a convert, pointing to statues of our deities and saying
that idol worship is evil worship. That is not good for the security of our country, the harmony of our country and the pursuit of happiness.”

The premise of the Chhoedey Lhentshog, the agency regulating religious organizations, he said, “is that all the different schools of Buddhism and all the different religions see eye to eye with mutual respect and mutual understanding. If that objective is not met, it does not make sense to be part of that.”

It remains unclear what the legal rights of Christians are, as there is no interaction between the Christians and the government. Christian sources in Bhutan said they were open to dialogue with the government in order to remove “misunderstandings” and “distrust.”

“Thankfully, our political leadership is sincere and trustworthy,” said one Christian leader.

Asserting that Christians enjoy the right to worship in Bhutan, Prime Minister Thinley said authorities have not interfered with any worship services.

“There are more Christian activities taking place on a daily basis than Hindu and Buddhist activities,” he added.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

India Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution


Karnataka, India, April 8 (CDN) — Four Christians, including a police constable, were beaten on April 1 in Madikeri district on allegations of “religious conversion abetment,” as if conversion were illegal in India. Daijiworld Media Network reported that K. Nidugane villagers were enraged when a Christian constable identified only as Prasanna, along with three others identified only as Diwakar, Lawrence and Dias, went door-to-door distributing pamphlets and books in Nandimotte village. A few enraged Hindu villagers beat them, tore their clothes half-off, and brought them to a police station. Hindu extremist leaders who found out rushed to the village, but before they could manhandle the four, policemen intervened and took the accused Christians into custody. Deputy Superintendent of Police J.D. Prakash said that a recommendation had been sent to the superintendent of police seeking Prasanna’s suspension from service, the Daijiworld report stated. Diwakar, along with his wife Telcy Diwakar, had also been arrested and released on bail when they visited Devastoor village on March 26. A police official told Compass that the Christians have been charged with “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

Karnataka – Police on April 1 arrested Christians after Hindu nationalists registered false complaints of “conversion” against them (religious conversion is legal in India) in Kodihalli, Bangalore. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that citizens identified only as Vincent, Johnson, Satyan and Naveenand Vinod were at a prayer and fellowship meeting in the home of a Christian when area Hindu extremists led by a person identified only Prashanth stormed the house, made the accusation and forced them to the Kodihalli police station. A GCIC coordinator told Compass that the intolerant Hindus shouted anti-Christian rants along the way, and that police were mute spectators as the extremists mocked the Christians at the police station. Police charged the Christians with “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.”

Himachal Pradesh – On March 17 at Rekong Peo in Kinnur district, Hindu extremists ostracized the Christian community and warned them under threat of violence to conduct no future worship meetings. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that Hindu nationalist extremists barred Christians from using a public road, collecting drinking water and entering a local forest. A group of 20 Christians filed a complaint at the Bhavannagar police station, but officials failed to protect the victims at the behest of the local Hindu extremists. AICC submitted a detailed report to the National Commission for Minorities, requesting an investigation.

Kerala – On March 31 on Kara Beach Road, Kodungallur, Hindu extremists attacked Pastor N.V. Eliyas and Pastor Milton George of New India Church of God as they were returning home with their families from a house dedication prayer service. The extremists shouted slogans against the Christians as they accused them of “forceful conversions,” reported the Global Council of Indian Christians. The Hindu extremists damaged the Christians’ vehicles. Pastor Eliyas sustained injuries on his head and ear and was rushed to the Kodungallur Government Hospital. Police arrested 35 Hindu extremists who were involved in the incident.

Uttar Pradesh – On March 20 in Lonianpurawa, Balrampur district, an irate mob of 60 Hindu extremists barged into the worship meeting of The Healing Church and beat those present. An earlier incident had taken place the previous Sunday (March 13), when Hindu extremists threatened the worship led by convert Gudgi Verma and his wife Saroja Verma, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). Opposing their thriving ministry in the area, local Member of the Legislative Assembly Gorakhnath Baba allegedly had sent about 25 Hindu extremists to the church to deliver the warning to discontinue church services. The Christians continued, and on March 16 Baba and 50 Hindu extremists went to the site, urged the couple to stop all Christian worship meetings and restore Hindu idols to the house, give offerings to the temple and observe all Hindu festivals, according to EFI. Evangelists Abhay Kumar and Keshov Parsad went to Lonianpurawa on March 20 to lead worship, and the Hindu extremists suddenly barged in, verbally abused the Christians for their faith and beat them. The situation in the area is reported as tense, and local Christians are praying to be able to resume regular Sunday worship meetings.  

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org