Dushnbe: Tajikistan moved a step closer on Thursday to banning children and teens from worshipping in mosques in a bid to curb Islamic fundamentalism, amid criticism from religious leaders.
The upper house of parliament unanimously adopted a "parental responsibility" bill, which would ban those under 18 from praying in churches and mosques and would require them to study in secular schools.
The bill now goes to President Emomali Rahmon, who backed the legislation and is expected to sign it.
"The current law aims to protect interests of the coming generation of Tajikistan," the chairman of the upper chamber of parliament, Makhmadsaid Ubaydullayev, said in a statement.
Authorities in the ex-Soviet state have said the new law is needed to prevent the spread of religious fundamentalism in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation, but religious leaders have condemned it.
"It's a black day for Muslims. Even in Soviet times, such punitive measures and religious persecution did not exist," prominent Muslim theologist Akbar Turadzhonzoda, a former deputy prime minister, said last month after the lower chamber of parliament supported the measure.
"If the state doesn't want to, the people will defend their faith themselves," he has said.
The impoverished state shares a 1,340-kilometre (840-mile) border with Afghanistan.
The secular government of the nation of 7.5 million people has accused religious groups of stoking unrest in a bid to impose Islamic rule.
Rahmon, who has ruled Tajikistan since the early 1990s, called home students from religious schools abroad last autumn, saying the institutions "prepare terrorists".