Over recent months there have been a number of worrying developments concerning education, children’s rights, and the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in China. These include:
- Prohibitions against under 18s entering places of worship.
- Pressure from schools on children and parents to stop ‘believing in religion’.
- Blocked access to education on the basis of religious belief or practice (child or parents).
- Forced closure of faith-based educational facilities.
- Detention of minors in connection with their religion or belief.
These incidents are part of a new government focus on the control and management of religious activities, exemplified by the revised Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA) which came into effect on 1 February 2018 and include articles pertaining to religion in education.1 Unregistered communities are being forcibly shut down, while religious groups registered with the government are being managed more tightly. Additionally, some Christian groups have been accused of belonging to ‘evil cults’ which are banned by the government under vaguely- worded anti-cult legislation. In each case the government’s focus is on the control of religious life, rather than the protection of FoRB.
A child’s right to FoRB is guaranteed under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as well as Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which China has ratified. Furthermore, the child’s right to education without discrimination is guaranteed by Article 26 of the UDHR and Articles 28 and 29 of the CRC. The right to education is guaranteed in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which China has also ratified.