Barnabas Fund 

Hundreds of Christian girls kidnapped, forced to marry Muslims in Pakistan

Country/Region: South and East Asia, Pakistan

An estimated 1,000 girls and young women – mostly Christians – are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men every year in Pakistan, according to a new report.

Young Christian women in Pakistan are extremely vulnerable
Young Christian women in Pakistan are extremely vulnerable

Produced by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan (MSP), a human rights organisation, Forced Marriages & Forced Conversions in the Christian Community of Pakistan found that up to 700 of those affected are Christian and around 300 Hindu. But the authors said:

The true scale of the problem is likely to be much greater, as a number of cases are never reported or do not progress through the law-enforcement and legal systems.

The Christian victims are mainly aged between 12 and 25. They may be subjected to sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse, forced prostitution and human trafficking.

The report, released on 7 April, said that cases follow a distinctive pattern. The girl or young woman is abducted, converted to Islam and married to the abductor or a third party. The victim’s family files an abduction or rape case with the police; the abductor then files a counter case against the family, accusing them of harassment  and conspiracy to reconvert the girl.

The victim is then asked to testify in court as to whether or not she converted and married voluntarily, but she typically remains in the custody of the abductor throughout proceedings, which makes it extremely difficult for her to speak truthfully. Thus the case is often settled in his favour.

The report featured ten illustrative cases. One of them, Nadia Naira, was kidnapped in 2001 when she was 15. She explained why she could not speak out against her “husband” in court:

[He] warned me that if I recorded any statements against him, my parents would be killed… I was frightened and complied… It was very painful to say this in court while my parents were present. But their safety was in my hands and I didn’t know how to handle the matter.

Nadia managed to escape after ten years in captivity, during which time she suffered physical violence and sexual abuse and gave birth to five children. But she and her family subsequently faced a prolonged campaign of harassment and threats, and Nadia eventually returned to her husband.

In another case, Tania Rubecca was kidnapped in 2012 at the age of 22. She became a victim of human trafficking and was sold twice before being forcibly converted and married to one of her captors. Tania was one of a number of girls held by the traffickers, who intended to force them into sexual labour. She was beaten and repeatedly raped.

Tania’s family had to lease out their home in order to pay a ransom for her return. She was severely traumatised by the ordeal and has required extensive psychological treatment.

The MSP report highlighted how the families’ pursuit of justice, redress and the recovery of their loved one are blocked at multiple levels: the police refuse to lodge a case; the courts accept unquestioningly statements attesting to conversion and marriage; and the families have to resort to pleading with the perpetrators and prominent individuals in order to get their relative back.

Numerous recommendations were made for the authorities to implement including: improving police response times in instances where abduction is alleged to have occurred; better identification of falsified marriage and conversion certificates; protection for women and families under threat from kidnappers; providing helplines for easy and safe reporting; and allocating funds for the rehabilitation of victims, including compensation for their families.

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