"They're taking our kids."

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Ordinary Guy (TM)
They're taking our kids

West Papua's youth are being removed to Islamic religious schools in Java for "re-education."

A six-month Good Weekend investigation has confirmed that children, possibly in their thousands, have been enticed away over the past decade or more with the promise of a free education. In a province where the schools are poor and the families poorer still, no-cost schooling can be an irresistible offer.

But for some of these children, who may be as young as five, it's only when they arrive that they find out they have been recruited by "pesantren", Islamic boarding schools, where time to study maths, science or language is dwarfed by the hours spent in the mosque. There, in the words of one pesantren leader, "They learn to honour God, which is the main thing." These schools have one aim: to send their graduates back to Christian-majority Papua to spread their muscular form of Islam.

Ask the 100 Papuan boys and girls at the Daarur Rasul school outside Jakarta what they want to be when they grow up and they shout, "Ustad! Ustad! [religious teacher]."

In Papua, particularly in the Highlands, the issues of religious and cultural identity are red-hot. Census data from over the past four decades shows that the indigenous population is now matched in number by recent migrants, largely Muslims, from other parts of Indonesia. The newcomers' domination of the economy, particularly in the western half of the province, effectively marginalises the original inhabitants. This immigration means that indigenous Papuans have a real - and realistic - fear of becoming an ethnic and religious minority in their own country.

Stories of people taking away their children adds an emotive edge and has the potential to inflame tensions in an already volatile region.
For about 50 years, a separatist insurgency has been active in Papua and hundreds of thousands have died in their efforts to gain independence for the province.

Christianity, brought by Dutch and German missionaries, is both the faith of a vast majority of the indigenous population, and a key part of their identity. Islam actually has an even longer history in Papua than Christianity, but it's of a gentler kind than what's preached in Java's increasingly hardline mosques and it's still, for the moment at least, the minority religion. But when the pesantren children return from Java, their faith has changed. "They become different persons," Papuan Christian leader Benny Giay, tells me. "They have been brainwashed".

The schools insist they recruit only students who are already Muslims, but it's clear they are not too fussy. At Daarur Rasul, I quickly found two little boys, Filipus and Aldi, who were mualaf - brand new converts from Christianity. One radical Islamic organisation, Al Fatih Kafah Nusantara (AFKN), makes no bones about its intention to convert, and to use religion for political ends. Leader Fadzlan Garamatan says AFKN has brought 2200 children out of Papua as part of his program of nationalistic "Islamicisation". "When [Papuans] convert to Islam, their desire to be independent reduces," says Fadzlan on AFKN's internet page.

In restive West Papua, the movement and conversion of young children is politically explosive. We were warned a number of times not to chase the story. It's never reported in the Indonesian press. The chief of the Indonesia government's Jakarta-based Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua, Bambang Darmono, downplays it as just one of "many issues in Papua", and the Religious Affairs Ministry's director of pesantrens, Saefudin, says he has never heard of it. But my efforts to trace the life and death of one Papuan boy has revealed that the trade goes on. And, in the service of grand religious and political aims, sometimes young lives are broken.

and more [underlines mine for emphasis]:

Internal transportation of children has a long and dishonourable history in Indonesia. Around 4500 children were removed from East Timor over the 24-year Indonesian occupation to serve, in the words of author Helene Van Klinken in her book Making Them Indonesians, a "proselytising Islamic faith", and to bind the region closer to Jakarta. Children, she wrote, were chosen because they were "impressionable and easily manipulated to serve political, racial, ideological and religious aims".

Papua has been a target in the past, too. In 1969, former president Suharto proposed transferring 200,000 children of the "backward and primitive Papuans, still living in the stone age" to Java for education. Another Saudi-backed group, DDII, used to bring children from both East Timor and Papua. And today, AFKN, which is linked to the thuggish, hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), is actively seeking children to recruit.
Daarur Rasul is half pesantren, half building site in a satellite city of Jakarta called Cibinong. Here, 100 boys from the lowlands in Papua's western half crowd up to the heavy bars of a gate to greet us. The gate is locked because, according to one member of staff, "they like to escape". Forty or so girls live downstairs with more freedom of movement. School principal Ahmad Baihaqi insists he teaches moderate Islam, and the children are at least seven, but some look younger. He doesn't deny they are locked up, but says it is only during study hours "to put discipline on them".

In 2011, four boys did escape and claimed not only that they'd been forced to work on the construction site, but that at the school, they had been left hungry, given unboiled water to drink and were taught only Islam, Indonesian language and maths. Baihaqi insists the boys exaggerate, saying they had been "naughty" from before they arrived. He agrees that sometimes his students do work on the construction site, but says they enjoy it. The boys' lessons begin at 4am with prayers. School continues, with breaks and an afternoon nap, until 9pm, during which there are seven hours of prayer and Koran reading and only 3 1/2 hours for "natural sciences, social sciences, reading and writing".

Baihaqi says he recruits new students in Papua every year and swears parents give their consent. But the children only travel home every three years. They don't miss their parents, he says, and the parents knowingly agree to the arrangement.

The Indonesian government's Child Protection Commission, KPAI, is also sanguine. Deputy chairman Asrorun Ni'am, who is also a senior member of the Fatwa Council of the MUI, the government's Islamic advisory body, was more worried about the "religious sentiment" we might stir up by writing the story. "It's against all efforts to build harmonious atmosphere," he warned us.

The law is clear. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Indonesia is a party, says children should not be separated from their families for whatever reason, even poverty. And Indonesia's Child Protection Act includes a five-year jail penalty for those who convert a child to religion different from their family's.

In West Papua, religious leaders have little doubt that removing children is part of a broader effort to overwhelm the indigenous population; "It is Indonesia's long-term project to make Papua an Islamic place," says the head of the province's Baptist church, Socratez Yoman. "If Jakarta wants to educate Papuan children," says Christian leader Benny Giay, "why don't they build schools in Papua?"

Pray for this situation.

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Puritan Board Sophomore
In many ways that's similar to the public school system's approach to immersing kids in secular humanism.
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