Children`s rights violated in Belarus-church leaders

Protestant church leaders in Belarus protested to the Education Ministry on Thursday that their children were being pressured to join former Soviet and atheist youth groups. Leaders of four protestant churches sent a letter asking the ministry to stop schools from "forcing" children to join the youth groups similar to the Soviet-style Pioneers and Komsomol organisations that once were used to instill communist ideals.

President Alexander Lukashenko, under fire in the West for stifling opposition and independent media, last year ordered ideology classes for state workers in a move criticised by opposition politicians as Soviet-style indoctrination.

“Recently, we have started receiving numerous complaints from parents because representatives of the youth union and schools force pupils to join these social organisations," the leaders said in the letter. "We ask the Education Ministry to adopt the necessary measures to stop these activities which are violating the rights of citizens." Ministry officials declined to comment.

Vasily Malets, a deputy pastor of the Blagodat church, said many parents complained their children were forced by school authorities to leave their schools after they refused to join the organisations.

Only about two percent of Belarus's 10 million people are protestants. They are particularly sensitive to Lukashenko's attempts to revive the Soviet-era symbols and traditions because many of the worshippers were persecuted during Soviet times.