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Kyrgyzstan: the number of children not attending school due to parental beliefs is declining

In Kyrgyzstan, despite many years of struggle, there are still some cases, when children do not attend school because of the religious beliefs of their parents.

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Pupils from one of the secondary schools in the Jalal-Abad region. This photo is illustrative, depicted people are not connected with the topic of the article. Source: website of the Ministry of Education and Science

According to the statistics from the Ministry of Education and Science of Kyrgyzstan, it has recorded 98 cases in the first half of the current academic year when pupils do not attend schools. These numbers demonstrate only officially known cases.

The first facts that children were not allowed to go to school because of the religious beliefs were recorded in 2010, according to the Ministry of Education and Science. The peak number of leaving schools was reached in 2016 – more than 2500 cases. Further, the statistics slightly leveled, but it is obvious that the situation in the regions is much worse than in major cities – Bishkek and Osh.

A recent report in January revealed that now there are about a hundred families in Bishkek, who do not permit their children to get basic knowledge based on religious reasons. Gulshan Abdyldaeva, chief specialist of the Office of Preschool, School and Out-of-School Education of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic spoke about that. 

Gulshan Abdyldaeva. Photo: sputnik.kg

She tells that some of the violators are followers of the “Yakyn Inkar” – the religious group banned in Kyrgyzstan, (prohibited in Kyrgyzstan by the decision of Oktyabrsky District Court in Bishkek on June 15, 2017 – editorial note). There are also followers of Christian sects, which are not registered by the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA).

“Such parents explain their prohibitions by the fact that children in a public school can be spoiled. Some of the parents say they prefer to educate children themselves. But according to the law, as an exemption, children with disabilities, who cannot attend school due to health reasons, can be taught at home. A simplified home-based training program has been created specifically for them”, said Abdyldaeva.

However the State Commission for Religious Affairs claims that unregistered religious organizations do not exist in the country. They assure, that they keep monitoring the situation constantly.

According to the deputy director of the SCRA Zakir Chotaev, if there is a fact that a child instead of receiving compulsory secondary education (9 grades) studies in a religious institution, the comission issues a special order, because it is prohibited by law.

“Recently we found out that in Bishkek one religious educational institution was engaged in training without having a registration from the SCRA. We sent a written warning to amend the violations. In Talas province, a schoolboy was identified attending religious courses in his spare time from school. We made a warning that this is not allowed”, said the official.

Literacy struggle

On January 27 this year, the Jalal-Abad city prosecutor filed a lawsuit against the parents of a 5th grade schoolboy, because they forbade to their son to participate in classes.

The representative of the local kaziyat Arfidin Zhoroev told CABAR.asia that the head of that family is a follower of the religious organization “Yakyn Inkar”, which was prohibited in Kyrgyzstan (banned in Kyrgyzstan by a decision of the Oktyabrsky District Court of Bishkek on June 15, 2017 – editorial note).

“When we received a message from the City mayor’s office that the boy had not been attending school for four months, we took control of the situation. We found out that the head of family left for Daavat, and the spouse and son are alone at home. The boy’s mother agreed that he should attend school, but without the permission of her husband she could not decide to let him go”, the source added.

Followers of the prohibited movement “Yakyn Inkar” (prohibited in the Kyrgyz Republic by a court’s decision). Photo: press service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Kyrgyzstan

Arfidin Zhoroev specified that explanatory works had already been carried out with the father of the family. After that conversation man allegedly revised his behavior and “embarked on the path of proper Islam.”

The social educator in one of the secondary schools in the Issyk-Kul province told another case.

The family has two sons and the parents refused to let them go to school for four consecutive years. The head of the family argued as follows: the boys are studying the Arabic language, and in the future they will go for studying to the Arab countries. 

“All authorities joined to solve this problem, but there were no results. Then the district department of education had to file a lawsuit the parents. On April 5, 2018, the boys’ father was sentenced to 2 years. Immediately after this, the man’s brother brought both children to school. Despite the fact that the eldest should have been studied already in the 4th grade, and the youngest in the 2nd, by the decision of the school commission, the children were taken to the 2nd and 1st grades”, the social pedagogue informed.

However, the father of the children in a conversation with a journalist of CABAR.asia called this as a pressure from the state.

“I do not agree with the court’s decision. I am the father of these children and I should decide what kind of education they have to receive. I am teaching my children Russian, they are fluent in Arabic, and this language is considered as an international language”, he says. – I wanted to send them in future to India or Arab countries. Now, due to the pressure from the authorities, my children had to begin attending public school. I am against it, because the school is mixed, and according to Sharia, girls and boys should study in different classrooms. I want to bring my children to the madrasah, but madrasah accepts children only from 13-14 years old”.

Now he is waiting for the boys to reach the right age to transfer them to a religious educational institution.

Muftiate supports school education

The Spiritual Administration of Muslims (SAMK) does not welcome such decisions of parents, commented Akimzhan Ergeshov, the head of the educational department.

“Islam does not say that a person can be limited only studying of the Qur’an. Every person, including a Muslim, must receive education that will help him to find his place in society. And he should get religious knowledge based on his needs”, the SAMK representative told CABAR.asia.

The representative of the muftiate supports the idea, that all children receive secular education. Photo: CABAR.asia

He believes that if parents do not trust the educational work of the school, then they just need to transfer the child to another suitable school. But it’s wrong to name these reasons as “religious beliefs”. Rather, these are their very personal beliefs.

Ergeshov is convinced that “Yes, there are facts when parents insist that they will educate their children at home and study the Qur’an. However they are limited only by the Qur’an – they do not learn mathematics, the Kyrgyz language or literature. Children do not receive knowledge, that would prepare them for full life in society and give the foundation for adult life. It is impossible to replace the school.”

He assured that the muftiate has been regularly carrying out explanatory work during Friday prayers, at Eid prayers and in crowded places.

However, expert on religious education Muratbek Imankulov is confident that preventive work is poorly conducted, that’s is why such cases are still recorded.

The expert is convinced that “SAMK, the Ministry of Education and schools are not able to prevent this phenomenon, since they are public authorities, not law enforcement agencies (editorial note: the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic is a state body with a wide range of power). Namely, law enforcement officers must stop such actions”.

He wonders why the followers of the banned extremist movement “Yakyn Inkar” (banned in the Kyrgyzstan by a decision of the Oktyabrsky District Court of Bishkek on June 15, 2017 – editorial note) do still exist. Indeed, often the followers of this movement restrict children from secular education.

Imankulov believes that “this happens because the law enforcement agencies do not work efficiently, precisely and only with those whom they have identified. Prevention is poor, there are no clear mechanisms for prevention, and there is no coordination between various departments”.

Balance is possible

Nurbek Karagulov is a citizen of Kyrgyzstan, who performed the Hajj this year. He combines secular life and religious concepts, and believes that everyone is obliged to get a secular school education.

We must follow the laws and conditions of the country we live in.
The pilgrim urged “My children go to school and receive a secular education. The words “study, study and study again!” taken from the Qur’an (editorial note: this phrase is attributed to V. Lenin; in the Qur’an there are the words “Learn from the cradle to death”). There is also mentioned the fact that a person should develop in the same direction as the society. Yes, the Sharia states that women and men should be educated separately, but we do not have such conditions, and we are not an Arab state. We must follow the laws and conditions of the country we live in”.

Nazgul Turdubekova, director of the League of Child Defenders Foundation, also believes that if parents want to raise their children based on personal religious beliefs, they can do this in addition to secular education. This should not interfere with the mental and physical health of a child, should not be associated with violence.

The interlocuter said “To get an education is the fundamental right of a child, so that later he can enjoy civil and political rights. For example, to write a statement himself. Kyrgyzstan is a secular state, and education is priority. Until the 9th grade, parents are required to give children a state-approved standard in a public educational institution. And if they are not allowed to go to school, this is a neglect of the needs of the child”.

She also believes that government agencies should hold parents accountable, if they poorly fulfill their obligations.

The editorial office of CABAR.asia turned to the State Commission for Religious Affairs to ask what measures the authorities are taking so that every child in Kyrgyzstan receives a basic education. Deputy Director Zakir Chotaev said that recently the department made amendments to the draft regulation on the procedure for providing religious education – now the requirements have been spelled out in detail, which was not the case before. The document is already under consideration by the government.

This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»

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