Christian Children Forced to Become Novice Buddhist Monks by Burmese Regime

Thursday, April 1, 2004

April 1, 2004 BURMA/INDIA (ANS) -- Children from Christian families in Burma between the ages of five and ten have been lured from their homes and placed in Buddhist monasteries. Once taken in, their heads have been shaved and they have been trained as novice monks, never to see their parents again.

In a visit to Chin and Kachin refugees in New Delhi and Mizoram State, India, earlier this month, CSW heard accounts of cultural genocide and religious persecution and discrimination. The Burmese regime's forces offer incentives to impoverished villagers to convert from Christianity to Buddhism in Chin state, an area which is 90 percent Christian.

Mountain top crosses have been destroyed and villagers forced to build Buddhist pagodas in their place, often having to contribute finances and labor.

Christians are required to obtain permits for special events, and for any renovation or construction work. No permission for new church buildings has been given since 1994. Christians in the civil service are discriminated against, and no Christian can rise beyond the rank of Major in the regime's army.

In addition to overt religious persecution, the Burmese junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has adopted a deliberate policy of introducing crude alcohol to Chin State. The Chin culture forbids alcohol, but the SPDC has brought in large quantities of methylated spirits/industrial alcohol, which it sells cheaply on the streets to teenagers and young parents, especially on Sundays when people go to church. The medical effects include addiction, jaundice, toxic liver failure and damage to brain cells, in some cases leading ultimately to death. One Chin Christian told the CSW delegation, "It causes the breakdown of body, mind, spirit and society."

Forced labor, a serious human rights violation, occurs "on a daily basis," often disrupting church and community activities. CSW received a copy of a recent letter from an SPDC commander to a village headman dated December 13 2003 demanding 40 porters from one village and 30 from another. In another area of Chin State, villagers were forced to porter from December 20 2003 until January 19 2004, and were therefore unable to celebrate Christmas and New Year in their communities.

The visit was conducted jointly by CSW-UK and CSW-Australia. CSW is one of only a handful of international organizations to visit the Chin and Kachin. One Chin refugee told the delegation: "Many foreigners go to Burma's eastern border in Thailand, but until now no one has come to us. We used to pray for foreign NGOs to come to the western borders, and we used to weep when no one came." A Kachin refugee said: "It is true that we feel we are known by no one." The Chairman of the Chin National Front said: "Your coming here is a God-send."

CSW is calling on the international community to respond to these reports of human rights violations in western Burma, which add to the catalogue of evidence of atrocities perpetrated throughout the country by the junta.

"The forgotten Chin and Kachin peoples of Burma urgently need their voice to be heard," said Baroness Cox, a deputy speaker of the British House of Lords and CSW-UK's Honorary President, who led the delegation to India. "We appeal to the international community to increase pressure on the regime to stop its policies of ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, cultural genocide, forced labour and torture. We also urge other international Non-Governmental Organizations currently providing humanitarian assistance on the Thai-Burmese border to consider taking up the plight of the refugees and Internally Displaced People in the western regions of Burma too."

For more information or a copy of the report, please contact Richard Chilvers, communications manager, CSW on +44 (0) 20 8329 0045 or email or visit CSW is a human rights charity working on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs. We also promote religious liberty for all.