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Religious minority children 'face exclusion' from schools in Mexico

There's calls for Mexico's Ministry of Public Education (SEP) to work with state authorities to ensure that no religious minority child is banned from attending school because of their religious beliefs or those of their parents. 

The SEP recently announced plans for a phased return to school for all children after more than a year of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

CSW has documented a range of violations, including violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) experienced by religious minorities, in educational settings in Mexico as part of its Faith and a Future campaign. The campaign highlights the discrimination and harassment faced by children in educational settings on account of their religious beliefs. 

Catholicism is the dominant Mexican religion.

The country's Law of Uses and Customs, which is meant to protect indigenous culture and traditions, is supposed to be practised in accordance with the Mexican constitution. It requires that fundamental human rights, including the right to an education, are respected.  Article 24 guarantees the right to FoRB. In reality, however, the government at both the state and federal level does little to enforce this, according to CSW.

The majority of the violations of FoRB, linked to abuse of the Law of Uses and Customs, occur in states with a significant indigenous population, including Chiapas, Guerrero, Hidalgo and Jalisco. In these areas children are often forced to participate in overtly religious activities against their beliefs, are bullied by fellow pupils and teachers, and face pressure to convert to the majority faith.

If members of the religious minority decline to participate, local leaders often strip them of basic services, including education by barring their children from school, as well as access to water and electricity. In extreme cases, religious intolerance results in forced displacement. Children who have been forcibly displaced frequently lack the required paperwork to enrol at a school in their new place of residence, meaning they are more likely to be deprived of an education.

CSW's Head of Advocacy Anna-Lee Stangl said in a statement: "As Mexico makes plans for all children to begin returning to school, measures must be taken to ensure that children of all religions and beliefs or none are free to fully enjoy their fundamental right to an education alongside their right to FoRB without fear of harassment, intimidation or discrimination in educational settings or anywhere else. As Mexico celebrate Children's Day, CSW calls on the Ministry of Public Education to work with state government authorities in states where FoRB violations occur to ensure that all children have equal access to an education regardless of their religious beliefs or those of their parents."

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