By BosNewsLife Asia Service
DHAKA, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife)-- Nineteen Christian children who were to be sold to Islamic boarding schools ('madrassas') in Bangladesh have been rescued, a religious rights group said Thursday, February 7.
Traffickers lied to the children's parents saying they would take the children to Christian boarding schools in the capital Dhaka, when in fact, they were intending to sell the children to the various madrassas, explained International Christian Concern (ICC).
Students from Dhaka University reportedly discovered the children, ages 5 to 12, and rescued them Sunday, February 3.
A key trafficker, who was publicly identified as Binoy Tripura, allegedly confessed that he "collected the kids from their parents with lies and convinced them that [he] will admit all the kids to a Missionary [Christian] school in Dhaka."
He then collected 15,000 taka ($183) from each of their parents and intended to receive payment from the madrassa upon delivery of the children.
"The children, Christians from the Tripura tribe, realized something was not right during their long bus journey from the remote Cimbuk Hill in the Bandarban district to Bangladesh's capital city, Dhaka," ICC said in a statement.
"Twelve of the children ran away at a rest stop and called their parents to explain what was happening. Not knowing what else to do, the parents called Tripura tribal students attending Dhaka University, desperately asking for help. The university students met the bus in Dhaka, rescued the remaining six children, and captured Binoy, who is now in police custody," the rights group added.
This is not the first time Christian children were trafficked to madrassas. Up to 150 children were freed from similar situations since July 2012, according to rights investigators.
ICC said Christian families are often targeted by Islamists due to their faith and vulnerability. This year alone, 55 children were reportedly rescued from madrassas in Dhaka. On January 2, police said it rescued 21 children from five madrassas and "other Islamic organizations."
The children were allegedly forcibly converted to Islam and had their Christian names legally changed to Muslim ones. They believe the children, once fully brainwashed at the madrassa, were "destined for suicide squads" for use in jihad, ICC said.
First reports about Christian children being trafficked to madrassas emerged in July last year when the first 10 were rescued that same month, Christians said.
The children were allegedly forced to study verses from the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims, and Muslim prayers, pray five times a day, and learn Arabic.
If they refused, they were allegedly beaten with live electric wires or rods, underfed, locked in small closets, and verbally abused. "I was beaten many, many times because I didn't want to pray," a rescued boy reportedly said.
Churches in Bangladesh say some 300 Christian children have been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam recently and that many
still need to be rescued.
ICC Regional Manager for Asia, Corey Bailey, warned that it is "highly likely" that these children will be "brainwashed and used in jihad."
Bailey said this poses "grave danger" not only to the country of Bangladesh, but to the world. "The perpetrators of this crime, both the trafficker and the madrassa leaders who buy the children, must be held accountable for their actions to the full extent of Bangladeshi law," the ICC official added.
Churches in Bangladesh say some 300 Christian children have been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam recently, and that many
still need to be rescued.
Rights activists say the abductions are part of a wider campaign by Muslim militants, who have accused Christian missionaries of "proselytizing" and "forcibly converting" others to create a Christian majority in the area.
Evangelical Christians say it is impossible to "forcibly convert" people as the Bible makes clear that faith in Jesus Christ is a free personal choice.
Devoted Christians comprise less than one percent of the country's mainly Muslim population of over 161 million people, according to official estimates.
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