Alarming Rise In Forced Conversions of Christian Girls in Pakistan

Farrukh Saif

June 18, 2024

Pakistan continues to struggle with the grave issue of forced conversions of religious minority girls, specifically from the Christian community. Despite repeated condemnation from the United Nations and human rights groups, the year 2024 has witnessed a disturbing escalation in these cases, leaving young girls traumatized and families suffering. According to our information109 cases of forced conversion and forced marriages were documented in the first 6 months of 2024.

UN Experts Sound the Alarm:

On April 11, 2024, a forceful statement from United Nations experts expressed alarm at the lack of protection for minority girls in Pakistan from forced religious conversions and forced marriages. The statement, signed by multiple Special Rapporteurs, highlighted the vulnerability of Christian and Hindu girls to abduction, trafficking, child marriage, domestic servitude, and sexual violence.

“The exposure of young women and girls belonging to religious minority communities to such heinous human rights violations and the impunity of such crimes can no longer be tolerated or justified,” the experts stated.

Harrowing Cases and Impunity:

The UN experts cited specific cases that have sparked international outrage, including the abduction of Mishal Rasheed, a young Christian girl who was taken at gunpoint from her home in 2022. Mishal was sexually assaulted, forcibly converted to Islam, and forced to marry her abductor.

In another incident, Laiba Maish, a 10-year-old Christian girl from Faisalabad, was abducted on February 11, 2024, by four non-Muslim accomplices of Shaukat Shah, a Muslim man known for forcibly converting children to Islam. The marriage certificate falsely stated Laila’s age as 17, despite her official birth certificate showing she was only 10 years and 7 months old at the time.

Another case mentioned was that of a 13-year-old Christian girl who was allegedly abducted on March 13, 2024, forcibly converted to Islam, and married her abductor after her age was falsely recorded as 18 on the marriage certificate.

ECSPE is concerned that forced marriages and conversions of minority girls are often validated by courts, which invoke religious law to justify keeping victims with their abductors instead of allowing them to return to their parents. Perpetrators frequently escape accountability, with police dismissing crimes under the guise of “love marriages.”

According to reports, Pakistan witnessed a surge in cases of abduction and forced conversions of minority girls and women in 2023, with at least 136 incidents documented. Among these, 110 involved Hindu girls, and 26 involved Christian girls, with most cases documented in the provinces of Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan. There is a significant number of unreported cases as families chose to keep silent due to shame.

Alarmingly, around 90% of the abducted girls were under 18 years old, and approximately 50% were younger than 14, violating existing child marriage laws in Pakistan.

Despite attempts to introduce comprehensive legislation to combat forced conversions, previous bills have been rejected, often facing resistance from Islamist groups who view such measures as anti-Islamic.

Accountability and Reform:

The UN experts stressed that child, early, and forced marriage cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds, and that consent is irrelevant when the victim is a child under 18. They urged Pakistan to enact and rigorously enforce laws to ensure marriages are contracted with the free and full consent of both spouses and to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18, including for girls.

“All women and girls must be treated without discrimination, including those belonging to the Christian and Hindu communities, or indeed other religions and beliefs,” the experts stated, calling on Pakistan to bring culprits to justice and uphold its international human rights obligations.

As the world watches, the plight of Pakistan’s religious minority girls remains a pressing human rights concern, demanding urgent attention and decisive action to protect their fundamental rights and ensure a future where all Pakistanis can coexist peacefully, regardless of their faith.

Farrukh Saif

Farrukh H. Saif, a courageous Christian human rights activist, established the Farrukh Saif Foundation in 2009 to confront religious discrimination, blasphemy laws, and bonded slavery in Pakistan. His dedication to liberating bonded laborers from brick kilns and advocating for blasphemy victims and asylum seekers has garnered international acclaim. Despite encountering threats and fatwas, his impactful work persists in supporting marginalized communities. In 2018, the foundation merged with The Emergency Committee to Save the Persecuted and Enslaved, enhancing its global outreach.

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