In Dushanbe children can go to church only for funerals
A new bill before parliament will punish parents if they allow their underage children to go to church or mosque or study the catechism, all this ostensibly to prevent extremism from spreading. However, many slam the draft law as a violation of basic rights.
Dushanbe (AsiaNews/F18) – The lower house of Tajikistan’s parliament approved a controversial Parental Responsibility Law on 15 June. President Emomali Rahmon had proposed it. Under the new piece of legislation, harsher measures would stop children under the age of 18 from attending religious functions, except funerals. Violations would be severely punished, including prison for parents.

Like a 2009 law, the new draft bill would require parents not to allow their underage children to take part in the activities of religious organisations, except those by state-approved establishments. The one exception is funerals and other mourning-related events.

All religious functions, catechism and other religious activities would be affected. Children would not be allowed to accompany their parents to church or mosque, Forum 18 reports.

Parents who violate the law would face hefty fines and even prison terms, between five and eight years if they participate in study groups and up to 12 years for those who organise such groups. Even when parents are unaware that their children are participating in religious activities, the law imposes a legal obligation to supervise them.

The Lower House amended the Criminal Code to impose harsher penalties on parents, even thought the existing provisions already punished "violation of the procedure for organising and conducting gatherings, meetings, demonstrations, street processions and pickets" with fines or imprisonment of up to two years for the first violation, with repeat violations punished with a possible prison term of between two and five years.

What this all means is that children can only get a religious education in government-licensed madrassas, Islamic schools or Christian institutes in which religion is taught as a subject. Across the country, only a few dozens of institutions provide this kind of education, and their offer is insufficient to meet the needs of young people.

The State Religious Affairs Committee told Forum 18 that it did not plan to approve new institutions.

Now the draft bill goes to the upper house, but everyone expects it will sail through easily.

The law’s supporters argue that it is needed to fight religious extremism and prevent young people from falling under the influence of extremist religious groups belonging to Muslim terrorist organisations. However, the legislation does not define what extremist religious teaching is.

When faced with the objection that the ban touches everyone, even those who teach catechism to their children, Sattor Kholov, the lawmaker who led the discussion in the lower house in favour of the bill, said that judges will have the responsibility to identify and not punish non-extremist religious teachings.

For political commentator Faredun Hodizoda, the ban is “excessive” because even in Soviet times, boys were allowed to go to mosques.

Other critics have noted that religious extremism has not taken roots in the country, and that the law prevents young people from getting a religious education.

For lawmaker Muhiddin Kabiri, a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party, “this law will infringe even further upon citizens' rights and will bring even more restrictions.”

Experts note that the new law will further restrict religious freedom, already limited by the 2009 law.

Since then, many mosques have been destroyed, Christians have been tried and convicted for “illegal” meetings and activities, and Jehovah’s Witnesses have been banned.