On August 17, 2011, Mehek Rashid, a 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl was kidnapped at gunpoint in broad daylight in the Pakistan city of Gujranwala by a gang of five armed Muslim men. As she was thrown into a waiting car, one of her abductors yelled out to the on looking crowd that he would “purify” Mehek before making her his “mistress.”
Unluckily for Mehek and her family, the kidnappers hailed from a prominent Muslim family, which prompted local Pakistani authorities to refuse to investigate the case.
Tragically, Mehek Rashid’s abduction and the corresponding indifference displayed by Pakistan’s judicial authorities are an all too familiar occurrence in Pakistan, one in which a growing legion of young Christian girls are kidnapped, forced to marry their Muslim abductors and convert to Islam.
In fact, it is estimated that over 700 Christian girls suffer this terrible fate every year in Pakistan, with the vast majority of incidents occurring in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
In many instances, the forced marriages and conversions are carried out by powerful and influential Muslim families who threaten and severely beat the young girls into verifying their compliance if questioned by local authorities.
This type of physical coercion occurred in the case of Farah Hatim, a young Catholic girl from Punjab, who was kidnapped in May 2011 by three Muslim men and forced to marry one of her abductors before then being compelled to convert to Islam.
Unfortunately for Farah, a Pakistani court closed her case by citing a written statement by Farah that said she had willingly married and converted to Islam, an admission Farah’s parents claimed was given under duress and torture.
According to Farah’s mother, the Muslim family involved in the case has a history of kidnapping young Christian women and forcing them to convert, but they remain immune to prosecution as they are backed by a local representative of Pakistan’s ruling party.
Sadly, these abductors have little need to take the added step of forcing compliance from their victims, given Pakistan’s legal entities are themselves either bribed to turn a blind eye to the situation or have no moral qualms about the practice.
This fact was aptly demonstrated in the case of two Christian sisters from Punjab, Rebecca Masih and Saima Masih, who in May 2011 were kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam by a gang of Muslim men. The kidnappers had been hired by a wealthy local Muslim businessman who himself forcefully married Saima Masih the day after her kidnapping. When Saima’s father reported the case to local police, he was told simply to “forget his daughters.”
Moreover, Pakistan’s legal authorities even go to more proactive lengths to shield the perpetrators of these crimes. Khalid Gill, Chief Organizer for All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) has claimed police often delay investigations until after abducted women get pregnant, after which legally it is nearly impossible for courts to release them from their captors.
The end result is that these young girls often never return to their families unless they are lucky enough to escape their captors. Unsurprisingly, escape doesn’t mean that the perpetrators of the crimes will face any kind of judicial punishment.
The Centre for Legal Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which takes care of legal assistance for Pakistani Christians, has reported several disturbing cases of girls who escaped their captors, only to discover no charges were filed against their kidnappers.
These cases include Sidra Bibi, a 14-year-old girl who was raped, tortured and impregnated by a Muslim man from her village; Samina Ayub, a 17- year-old Christian girl who was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam, and renamed Fatima Bibi; and Shazia Bibi, a 19-year-old Christian maid who was forced by her Muslim employer to marry the employer’s son.
Regrettably, escaping one’s captor can also have potentially deadly consequences, as was the case of two recent escapees.
In May 2009 Alfred Arifa, a 27-year old Catholic girl, was kidnapped, raped and drugged. When she awoke to her senses, she was told she had converted to Islam and married one of her abductors. For two agonizing years, Arifa was drugged, constantly beaten and locked in the house before she managed to escape her tormentors in early August 2011.
Despite filing a complaint against her captors, Pakistani police have not pursued the case except to remark that they were “happy” Arifa had converted to Islam. Today, Arifa and her family are on the run from her “husband” who says that since Arifa is now a Muslim she can’t run away from home and must return or she will be killed along with her entire family.
Then, in early August 2011 Mariam Gill, a young Christian woman from Kahota, a town near Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, was abducted by a local Muslim, Muhammad Junaid, who forcibly converted Mariam to Islam before then marrying her.
Despite initially delaying investigating the case, local officials did end up returning Mariam back to her family. However, they pressed no charges against her kidnapper and instead urged both parties to come to some kind of an agreement. Unfortunately, that directive may prove difficult to carry out since Junaid has since issued threats, saying that if he did not get Mariam back, there would be “terrible consequences.”
Sadly, the abduction, rape and forced conversion of young Pakistani Christian girls is just one part of a larger pattern of abuse being levied against Christians of all ages and genders by Pakistan’s Muslim population.
Some of these assaults are aggressive but nonlethal displays of intolerance, but many more are extremely violent incidents in which Christians are killed as blood sport for enraged Muslim mobs. A report by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) states nearly 50 Christians were killed extra-judicially in Pakistan by mobs or individuals in 2010 alone.
Still, the assault on these helpless young Pakistani girls has taken the war against Pakistan’s Christian community to a whole new and disturbing level. As one Pakistani nun lamented, “The Christian girls are the weakest and most vulnerable, because their communities are poor, defenseless and … easily exposed to harassment and threats.”
Unfortunately, as the evidence points out, the suffering of these young girls doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon.