Children of Pakistani Christians burned to death get free education

by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 7/13/15, 02:00 pm

The barbaric murder of Shahzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi by a Muslim mob in Pakistan last November shocked the world. But they were not the only victims that day. The murders orphaned their four children.

“Really often, we here in the West or as observers of persecution, we focus on the direct victims: the people accused of blasphemy and then killed,” said William Stark of International Christian Concern (ICC). “Something we don’t talk about enough, I think, are secondary victims. Those are the children of victims.”

A mob seized, beat and burned the couple alive after they were accused (without evidence) of desecrating a Quran. The killing was a national “embarrassment” for Pakistan, said Stark, ICC’s regional manager for Southeast Asia.

The couple’s four children, who were 8, 5, 4 and 18 months old at the time of the attack, now live with relatives. Since then, a Pakistan-based Catholic charity in Lahore offered to provide the children with an education. According to Asia News, the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) is paying for school fees, books, uniforms, and transportation. The two oldest children, Suleiman and Sonia, already are taking classes.

“We are overjoyed to see these children not only enjoying school but also doing so well,” foundation president Michelle Chaudhry, daughter of Iris and Cecil Chaudhry, told Asia News. Cecil Chaudhry was a Catholic Pakistani and decorated Air Force captain.

Michelle Chaudry is convinced “education is one of the best defenses against exploitation and oppression.”

“Academic empowerment is certainly the way forward for any oppressed community in an intolerant society,” she said.

Pakistan’s government also promised to set up a trust for the children, Stark noted.

The education CICF has offered the children is a “great opportunity,” because it may allow them to break the cycle of working in brick kilns, which is much like indentured servitude, Stark said. Most children of brick kiln workers have little access to education and begin working as brick makers when they are very young. In many families, generations have worked in the kilns.

But this level of care and provision for children victimized by persecution is atypical. Stark said a parent’s death or severe injury from an act of religiously motivated violence can completely alter a child’s future, not always for the better.

ICC has worked to help educate children victimized by the 2013 All Saints Church bombing in Peshawar. One boy was 15 at the time the bombing injured him and left his father with an amputated leg and unable to speak well or move the right side of his body.

The boy, who has finished 10th grade, the final year of high school in Pakistan, told Stark, “That’s the day I became the man of the house.” Because his father can no longer provide for the family, the young man must work, preventing him from pursuing higher education.

“His future was completely changed by the attack,” Stark said. “That story is repeated over and over and over again” in Pakistan and around the world.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia has worked as a writer in the Washington, D.C., area since 2005 and was a fall 2012 participant in a World Journalism Institute mid-career class conducted by WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky in Asheville, N.C. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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