Each year, thousands of religious minority (Christian and Hindu) women are kidnapped, forced to convert and marry Muslim men in Pakistan. This estimate may be even higher as many cases remain unreported, often due to the limited financial means of the girls’ families.
Farah Shaheen, a 12-year-old Christian girl, was kidnapped from Faisalabad in June 2020 and abused by three men who chained her to a cattle pen. They claimed that she married one of the abductors at her own will. However, her family tells a different story. Farah spent months enslaved by one of the abductors, a 29-year-old Muslim man. He is alleged to have raped, shackled, and forced her to work in inhumane conditions.
Farah was rescued by police in December 2020. She had bruises all over her body and yet the Police dropped charges against the perpetrator as Farah allegedly testified to marrying her abductor and converting to Islam. Her parents accuse the police of fabricating the evidence. The documents reportedly include suggestions that she was 16 or 17, and not 12 but her birth certificate confirms that she was 12-year-old at the time of her abduction.
Another victim, Huma Younus was 14 when she was abducted, raped and converted to Islam. In her case, the court “dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of a Catholic girl overturned”, stating that a girl is ready to marry after she has had her first period. Myra Shehbaz, 14, faced a similar fate. Her family also took to the courts. Initially, the Sessions Court in Faisalabad directed that the girl be rehabilitated in a woman’s shelter. However, the Lahore High Court later overturned the decision and ordered that the 14-year-old girl be returned to her abductor. She has since escaped. Recently, there is the case of Saneha Kinza Iqbal, a 15-year-old girl who was also abducted, forcibly converted and married to a man twice her age. Her family has been trying to get her back with assistance from Faisalabad Police, however, they have been unsuccessful.
These are some of the examples from the growing list of crime against women of religious minority in Pakistan. The way their voices are silenced there is little or no hope that religious minority victims of abductions, forcible conversion and forced marriages will get justice. The police and justice systems have miserably failed the victims.
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The issue requires immediate attention. Young girls (Christian or Hindu) are being abducted, converted, abused and in some cases are trafficked to different countries in the form of the sex trade. There’s a lot that needs to change to ensure that women and girls who are abducted, forcibly converted, forcibly married, stand a chance against the systems that enable and accommodate their abuse.
There is no justification for violence and abuse against women and girls, whenever and wherever they occur.
About the Author
Ruth Jane is a women's rights activist and a freelance reporter. She covers news of crime against women.