Parents ask why child rights panel didn’t inform them, demand immediate release of their three daughters
A Church-run orphanage in Sagar diocese in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has been frequently targeted by the state's child rights panel officials to forcibly move out its children in an alleged move to close down the institution. Now three tribal Catholic girls were reportedly detained by a team from the panel on July 21 after an inspection of a Catholic school hostel in the state's predominantly tribal district of Jhabua. (Photo supplied)
Parents of three tribal Catholic girls have demanded their release from the custody of child welfare authorities in a central Indian state after they were forcibly taken away on suspicion of conversion to Christianity.
“We want our children to be immediately released,” Prakash Baria, father of one of the girls told UCA News on July 26.
The teenage girls were reportedly detained in central Indian Madhya Pradesh by a team of the state's Commission for Protection of Child Rights on July 21.
They were detained during an inspection of a Catholic school hostel in the predominantly tribal district of Jhabua, where they were staying, Church sources said.
The girls, two of them studying in grade 11 and one in grade 12, reportedly said they wanted to become Catholic nuns, which was interpreted as a religious conversion activity by the inspection team, Baria said.
The girls are now held in the custody of the District Child Welfare Committee (CWC) ignoring their pleas, alleged their parents who are from Jamburi village in Banswara district of neighboring Rajasthan state.
Baria along with the other parents had arrived in Jhabua and questioned the authorities’ decision without even informing them.
“We are tribal people who have followed the Catholic faith since our forefathers’ time. Why are our children kept in the custody” of the officials, Baria asked.
Samsun Makwana, another parent, asked: “Is it a crime to become a nun?”
“Even if our daughters have said that they want to become nuns, what is the problem,” he said.
Makwana said his daughter had studied up to class 10 in the village school and was sent to the Catholic school for further studies and she was accommodated in the Church-run hostel.
The parents told UCA News on July 26 that they plan legal action against the child welfare authorities if their daughters are not released.
Ashok Arora, chairman of the CWC, told UCA News that they were handed custody of the girls by the state’s child rights panel team.
He accused the hostel of violating norms and asked: “Is a school hostel a place to keep candidates who want to be nuns or give them training?”
Arora said the girls will be legally handed over to the CWC from Banswara district in Rajasthan.
“This is sheer harassment,” said Sister Pramila Toppo, hostel in charge and superior of the Convent of Missionary Sisters of Ajmer.
She told UCA News that it was “unfortunate that innocent girls are being treated like criminals for no fault of theirs."
"It seemed a deliberate attempt to tarnish the image of our education institutions,” she added.
Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, amended and sharpened its anti-conversion law in 2021.
The amended law prohibits unlawful conversion from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, any other fraudulent means, and allurement. Violators face a prison term of up to 10 years.
Christian leaders say the law is often used to target Christians in remote, tribal-dominated areas of the state.
“The frequency of the attacks on Christians has drastically increased" since the law was amended, said Daniel John, a Catholic leader based in the state capital Bhopal.
Both the federal and state child rights panels have been harassing Church-run schools, hostels and orphanages, through surprise inspections, and false cases against priests, nuns, staff members, and even bishops, John said.
Christians make up 0.29 percent of more than 72 million people in Madhya Pradesh, a majority of them Hindus.
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