By BosNewsLife Asia Service
DHAKA, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife)– Eleven of 16 Christian children who were rescued from Muslim traffickers in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on January 2 have gone missing, raising concerns they were abducted and taken to Islamic training centers, a Christian rights group said.
International Christian Concern (ICC) cited local Christians and officials on Thursday, April 4, as saying that the children were likely “re-trafficked and taken to ‘madrassas’,” the words used for strict Islamic boarding schools, and “forced to convert to Islam and study [Islam’s book] Koran.”
The children, along with five others, were rescued by police from a madrassa in the Abuzor Giffari Mosque Complex in Dhaka after they had been missing for months.
Students from Dhaka University reportedly discovered the children, ages 5 to 12, and rescued them.
“We were not aware that our child would be taken to a madrassa,” one parent reportedly said, apparently on condition of anonymity.
The children were returned to their parents in the Rangamati district of Chittagong Hill Tracts area soon after their rescue, but traffickers continually threatened the parents until the recent disappearance of the minors, according to ICC investigators.
“The [leader] of the traffickers gives a large sum of money to the traffickers to take the kids to the madrassa,” ICC quoted an unidentified source as saying.
“Because of this, they threatened the parents and took their children, again, to a madrassa. It is all because of large sums of money, and because there are no punishments for the trafficker,” the source reportedly said.
At least 141 children have been rescued from madrassas since July 2012, ICC said, though many others remain missing.
Churches in Bangladesh say some 300 Christian children have been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam recently and that many still need to be freed.
Christian parents say they have not been able to level charges against known traffickers due to poverty and fear of reprisals. No arrests have been made to date, according to rights investigators.
“The children in these instances are targeted for trafficking based on their Christian faith and economic status,” said Corey Bailey, ICC’s regional manager for Asia.
“Once trafficked, the children are forced to convert to Islam and the training for ‘suicide squads’ begins”, Bailey added, referring to Islamic terrorism.
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.
Washington-based ICC said it has urged Bangladesh to crackdown on traffickers.
“The buying and selling of human beings for any purpose is abhorrent and illegal under international law. The traffickers should be brought to justice and no longer allowed to operate with impunity,” Bailey told BosNewsLife in a statement.
“Education and opportunity for the Christian minority in Bangladesh should be a higher priority for the government to ensure that situations like this will no longer occur.”
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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