Tajikistan (MNN) — A controversial law which bans most children under 18 from participating in religious activities is set to go into effect in Tajikistan once Ramadan ends.
The Law on Parental Responsibility for Education and Upbringing of Children was passed by parliament on July 21. On August 2, President Emomali Rahmon gave the law his stamp of approval as well.
"It looks like indeed this controversial Law of Parental Responsibility has actually entered the force," confirms Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association. "The president did sign it. It does appear also that this particular law was the personal initiative of the president."
F18 News service notes that "religious communities of all faiths are struggling to find out how the law's almost complete ban on children's participation in religious activity will be enforced." But based on the testimonies of men like Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda of the Islamic Renaissance Party, it seems certain that the laws enforcement, to whatever degree, will begin at the end of August.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends August 31. Griffith speculates that the Tajik government won't enact the law during Ramadan due to the possibility of uproar in the mostly-Muslim nation during an Islamic holy month.
When the law does go into effect, though, no one is certain what precisely it will mean. On August 16 when Forum 18 attempted to ask the Religious Affairs Committee in Dushanbe about the law, no one was prepared to explain what religious activity by children is now permitted.
"It's a little bit too soon to see just how this law will be enforced," agrees Griffith.
The Parental Responsibility Law, in practice, would place a ban on most children under 18 from participating in religious activities. The Office of Human Rights in Tajikistan told Forum 18 that the law is needed especially for parents who lose control of their children to extremist religious groups.
Whatever the intentions of the law, however, it will certainly affect ALL children of ALL religions. "That not only affects parents and their right to raise children in the faith as they choose, but also children being able to attend worship services and children being able to participate in church-led functions like summer camp ministries," explains Griffith. "It really is a serious concern for exactly what the ramifications of this law are and will be in the future."
It's hard to say what it will mean, but if the laws are enacted and put into practice, state religious affairs officials told Forum 18 that they have specialists who would be in place at religious services to be sure the laws are being followed. If they find kids or teens in religious activities, higher structures will be appealed to.
The Parental Responsibility Law even calls for parents to restrict certain types of jewelry, tattoos, and even names they can choose for their kids.
The law has been met with criticism from various religious and human rights groups, but so far, it seems to be moving full-speed ahead. Christians are bracing themselves for the September enactment of the law, but will not cease teaching their children about Christ.
"This seems to be heading back to the Soviet days where they're just going to have to do things discretely and clandestinely," notes Griffith. "So it just continues to be a matter of prayer."
Pray for protection for believers and their families, who may be targets in regard to this law in coming weeks. Continue to pray that this law might be turned around, and that the Lord would change the heart of the Tajik president so freedom to preach the Truth would reign.
SGA has several missionary contacts in Tajikistan. To track the progress of the laws as SGA hears from their missionaries, visit sga.org.