ucanews.com reporter, KathmanduUpdated: July 22, 2016 11:01 AM GMT
Young Nepalese children during a festival in Kathmandu in this file photo. A social worker is accused by police of collecting Hindu children from remote areas of the Himalayan nation to put in her children's home and then forcing them to take part in Christian prayer services. (Photo by AFP)
A Christian social worker who cares for orphans has been jailed in Nepal while waiting to be tried over charges related to human trafficking and controversial religious conversion laws.
Social worker Chinimaya Blown was accused by police of collecting Hindu children from remote areas of the Himalayan nation to put in her children's home and then forcing them to take part in Christian prayer services.
A conviction for evangelizing in Nepal can result in five years jail time and a 50,000-rupee (US$470) fine.
The children's home has 14 children aged between 5-13. Blown previously ran a children's home in Dhankuta, eastern Nepal, but was unable to renew that home's permit so she brought the orphans to a new home in the country's capital.
Blown, who is currently being held in a Kathmandu jail, also faces charges related to human trafficking for placing the children in the home.
"Religion inspires us to provide refuge to the poor and orphans, but injustice has been done to these Christians by our judicial system," said B.P. Khanal, General Secretary of Janajagaran Party Nepal, a Christian political party.
"The sad thing is, the authorities have not been able to see the good deeds of Chinimaya Blown," said Khanal.
Hari Tamang, who is a pastor of the Jerusalem Antioch Church has also been charged but freed on bail after spending 25 days in police custody. Both were arrested on June 24.
Pastor Tanka Subedi, co-chairperson of the Nepal Christian Society, said that all orphanages run by Christians provide children with Bibles and teach them how to say prayers.
"This has nothing to do with conversion. Children do not become Christian or baptized until they are fully adult. By that time they will decide which religion to follow," Subedi said.
These social workers are just trying to help the needy, he added.
Meanwhile in a separate case, Bharatpur police have arrested another Christian couple for running children's home without proper documents and for distributing Bibles to the children.
The family was providing food, accommodation and education to eight poor children. During a search of the home, police found a copy of the Bible that belonged to the husband, Pratik Sunar, say sources. Sunar's wife was freed after objections from locals but he remains in police custody.
Hindu-majority Nepal released its new constitution in September. The constitution declares that Nepal is a secular state. However, lawmakers are debating a contentious bill — yet to be made law — proposing five years of imprisonment and a penalty of 50,000 rupees for anyone found guilty of converting a person from one religion to another.