Published: 10:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 19 September 2011
Estimated 700 Christian girls annually kidnapped and forcibly married to captors in Pakistan
Country/Region: South and East Asia, Pakistan
Watch video interview with Joseph Francis and Katherine Sapna of CLAAS
The abduction and forced conversion to Islam of Christian girls who are then married against their will to their captors is a disturbing and growing trend in Pakistan; it is estimated that there are over 700 cases every year.
One of the latest incidents involved a 14-year-old girl, Mehek Rashid, who was kidnapped at gunpoint from her home in Shisharwali, Gujranwala, by a gang of five armed Muslim men. One of her abductors yelled that he would purify Mehek by converting her to Islam before marrying her. The local authorities are refusing to investigate the case, apparently because the assailants are from a prominent Muslim family.
It is sadly an all too familiar story in Pakistan, where a senior church leader has warned that the “the cases of forced conversion are rising at an alarming rate”.
In another recent case, a young Christian woman, Mariam Gill, was abducted on her way home from the market in Kahota by a Muslim businessman who had previously asked her to marry him and been refused. She was forcibly converted and married to her kidnapper. His actions were praised by the Muslim leader who conducted the ceremonies as “a pious act”.
The authorities initially refused to intervene; a local police officer said Mariam acted of “her own free will”. But after she was questioned by officials and told them that she had been abducted and forced to convert, they returned Mariam to her family. The young woman’s ordeal is not over, however; her kidnapper threatened “terrible consequences” if he did not get her back.
Violence and rape
The forced conversions and marriages are often carried out by influential Muslim families who threaten and severely beat the young girls to frighten them into compliance, as seemingly happened in the case of Farah Hatim. The authorities rarely take action, and often the young girls never return to their families unless they manage to escape their captors. The girls are often raped and become pregnant, making it almost impossible for the courts to release them.
One father was told by police to “forget his daughters” after the two Christian sisters were abducted, raped and forcibly converted in Faisalabad in May.
Even when a captive does manage to escape, it is by no means the end of her suffering. If a woman leaves her new Muslim family and Islam to return to her Christian background, she is considered an apostate – even though she was forcibly converted – and is therefore liable to be killed.
Alfred Arifa, a 27-year-old Christian woman, is on the run with her family from the man who abducted her. She was drugged and kidnapped in May 2009; when Arifa revived, she was told that she had converted to Islam and married her captor. For over two years, she was locked in a house, constantly drugged and severely beaten, but she managed to escape last month. Her “husband” has threatened to kill her along with her entire family if she does not return to him.
Help for victims
Barnabas Fund supports a Pakistani Christian legal organisation, CLAAS, that helps women who are victims of kidnap, rape, forced conversion and marriage. Lawyers fight for cases to be taken up by the authorities and pursue justice for women in the courts. They also help the women to rebuild their lives; CLAAS has a rehabilitation centre, where women who have escaped from forced marriages can recover from their ordeal. Here, they are given opportunities to study, learn useful life skills and live normal lives as part of a loving Christian community.
If you prefer to telephone, dial: 0800 587 4006 from within the UK or +44 1672 565031 from outside the UK. Please quote project reference41-645 (Pakistan – Christian lawyers helping abused Christians).
For a quick donation of £3.00 by SMS (see terms and conditions here) text Barnabas/645 to 70007 (Please note: This facility is presently only available to UK supporters).