Every year, more than 1000 girls and young women — mostly Christians — are estimated to be kidnapped and forced to marry into Islam, a report has claimed.
The 36-page report, Forced marriages and forced conversions in the Christian community of Pakistan, published by human rights organisation the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan (MSP), found that up to 700 of those affected are Christian.
However, the report said the true scale of the problem could be wider, as families are too scared to report such abuses, or because the law enforcement and legal systems do not progress cases that are reported.
According to the report, the majority of Christian victims are aged between 12 and 25 and may be subjected to sexual assault, rape, domestic abuse, forced prostitution and human trafficking.
The victim is usually abducted, forced to convert and married to the abductor or a third party. Even if the family files an abduction or rape case, the abductor files a counter-claim against the family and often the victim is too scared to speak out.
Ten case studies were featured in the report, including one of a girl who was kidnapped when she was 15 and was too afraid to speak against her so-called husband in court.
She said, ‘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’.
After ten years, during which she gave birth to five children and suffered great abuse, she managed to escape. However, because of a prolonged campaign against her family, she returned to her husband.
According to the report, often 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.
The report called on the authorities to implement a number of measures to help protect women and their families. Recommendations included providing legal services and dispute resolution forums with special emphasis on vulnerable communities, and special prosecutors in every district to try cases of violence against women and minorities.