|Christian children at a school supported by Barnabas Fund|
Even though the government of Bangladesh publicly supports freedom of religion, discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities continues. The country is dominated by Islam; nearly 90% of its population are Muslims (over 140 million people), and there is also a sizeable Hindu minority.
Christians are a small minority (less than 1%) of the population and have a low social status; they wield little political power, and the police can sometimes be slow to assist them. They may be disadvantaged in education and employment, especially for government posts, and several (including some evangelists) have been martyred in recent years.
As an impoverished minority, Christians are also vulnerable to exploitation by Muslim extremists. Some Christian children are being taken from their families by deceit and sold to Islamic schools. Poor tribal Christian families are persuaded to pay for their children to attend “boarding schools”; intermediaries then pocket the money and sell the children to the schools. The children have to endure hours of Islamic education, and those who miss prayers or lessons are subjected to physical abuse.
There is however greater religious freedom for Christians in Bangladesh than in most Muslim-majority contexts. A recent constitutional amendment affirmed that although Islam has the status of a state religion, the country functions as a secular state. Political parties are also banned from using religion in their names and campaigns. However, Muslim extremists are lobbying for the introduction of blasphemy laws, which have proved so dangerous for Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.
Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest nations and is particularly subject to natural disasters such as floods and cyclones. In 2012 many Christian families were caught up in devastating flooding triggered by heavy monsoon rains and saw their houses destroyed.