Each Year Thousands Of Pakistani Christian Girls Forcibly Converted to Islam
We have been told for years that Pakistan is our ally, but I must ask, “With allies like this, who needs enemies?” Not only are we dealing with a regime that constantly is stabbing us in the back, but one that is acting rather barbaric, forcing thousands of Christian girls in their nation to marry at a young age, 12 to 14 years of age, to men who are 3 to 4 times their age, and with this forcing them to convert or face possible death.
Neha loved the hymns that filled her church with music. But she lost the chance to sing them last year when, at the age of 14, she was forcibly converted from Christianity to Islam and married to a 45-year-old man with children twice her age.
She tells her story in a voice so low it occasionally fades away. She all but disappears as she wraps a blue scarf tightly around her face and head. Neha’s husband is in jail now facing charges of rape for the underage marriage, but she is in hiding, afraid after security guards confiscated a pistol from his brother in court.
“He brought the gun to shoot me,” said Neha, whose last name The Associated Press is not using for her safety.
Neha is one of nearly 1,000 girls from religious minorities who are forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan each year, largely to pave the way for marriages that are under the legal age and non-consensual. Human rights activists say the practice has accelerated during lockdowns against the coronavirus, when girls are out of school and more visible, bride traffickers are more active on the Internet and families are more in debt.
In October, a 13-year-old Christian girl named Arzoo Raja was abducted as she played outside of her family’s home in Karachi, Pakistan. Arzoo’s parents reported the abduction to local police but were told two days later that their daughter had willingly converted to Islam and married their 44-year-old Muslim neighbor, Ali Azhar.
Unfortunately, Arzoo’s case is not unique in Pakistan. According to a 2014 study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, as many as 1,000 Christian and Hindu women and girls are abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted to Islam every year.
Many victims are minors taken from their families, sexually assaulted, married to an assailant, and held in captivity justified by falsified marriage and conversion documents. Violence and threats are used to compel victims to make statements in court supporting their captors.
Despite the odds stacked against them, some victims resist and escape to freedom. Reunited with their families, these survivors often have to go into hiding to maintain security.
In early 2019, Maria, a 15-year-old Christian girl, was abducted from a relative’s house in Pakistan’s Punjab province by an adult Muslim man named Iqbal. After the abduction, Maria was raped multiple times over several weeks and kept in Iqbal’s custody.
Maria’s father filed a report with local police soon after the abduction. However, local police took more than a week to officially file a report and start the investigation into Maria’s disappearance.
After approximately a month in captivity, Iqbal took Maria to a mosque where she was told by three men she must recite the Islamic proclamation of faith. When she refused, the men beat her and forced her to place thumb impressions on several blank papers. The three men then performed a marriage ceremony and again forcefully put her thumb impression on a document used as a falsified marriage certificate.
The next day, Maria was taken to the local court. Before giving her statement, Iqbal told Maria that if she did not say she had converted to Islam and married him of her own free will, he would kill Maria’s parents and siblings. According to Maria, Iqbal made it seem like he already had some of her siblings in his custody.
In court, Maria gave into Iqbal’s threats. She claimed she was 20-years-old, converted to Islam, and married Iqbal of her own free will. The fake marriage certificate and conversion documents were submitted to the court, and Maria was renamed Ayesha.
With extraordinary bravely, however, Maria was eventually able to resist Iqbal and his threats. In a subsequent court hearing, Maria claimed that she was forcefully converted, forcefully married, raped, and abducted by Iqbal.
Within a week, Maria’s new testimony was recorded in front of a judge, and police were ordered to investigate the claims of forced marriage and forced conversion. However, even though the marriage and conversion were in doubt, Maria remained in Iqbal’s custody.
Police attempted to interview Iqbal, but he and his family fled, leaving Maria locked in a room in their house. Maria was eventually rescued by neighbors who broke into the locked room after hearing her cries for help.
Free, Maria called her parents. She was soon reunited with them and taken into protective custody by local police.
After more than two months in captivity, the Lahore High Court found that Maria was abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted. The court went on to order that Maria return to her parents and that Iqbal be arrested.
Since gaining her freedom, Maria and her family have lived in hiding. They have changed where they live, their phone numbers, and even the names they use in public. The family faces continuous threats from Iqbal’s relatives and supporters, claiming that Maria should be reunited with Iqbal and not stay with a Christian family.
“This should not happen to a girl of any caste or creed,” Maria shared with ICC. “There should be a law in Pakistan that protects girls from religious minority communities.”
“Kidnapping girls, abusing and converting them against their will is like the law of the jungle,” Maria continued. “The kidnappers are misusing religion for their pleasure. The authorities must protect religious minorities, and there must be a campaign or orientation session for police to learn how to deal with these cases without bias.”
While these are three cases, thousands of these happen every year, yet our state department turns a blind eye to this. At the same time, Pakistan aids our enemies (remember how they hid Osama Bin Laden in their midst), blackmail the US for more and more money, one is starting to wonder why we are allies with them at all.
I have a Jewish friend tell me once, “The reason we care is when they are done with the Christians, they will come for us next. Until all can live in peace, practice the faith the way they choose, this is all of our fight!”
I have taken this to heart over the years.
It is time we demand that either Pakistan stop this shameful practice, or we will be looking elsewhere for nations to be allies with. Maybe we should start taking a closer look at India, which shares a democratic ideology with us, who are not ruled by radicals in their midst who could care less about human rights or dignity.
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