Abductions, sexual assaults, forced conversions, and forced marriages continue to be a significant abuse faced by Christians in Pakistan.
On 27 January 2019, Maria, 16, was abducted from a relative’s house in Punjab, Pakistan, by a group of Muslim men. For several weeks, Maria was raped multiple times in captivity, forced to convert to Islam, and married to one of her captors. According to Maria, she was severely beaten by four men after she initially refused to convert to Islam.
When Maria’s family came to know that she was missing, they immediately filed a report with the local police. Through several weeks of police efforts, Maria was found. However, this was only the beginning of the legal battle Maria and her family had to wage against her captors. It was also several weeks before Maria was allowed to return home to her family.
The legal battle started in March 2019 with Maria stating for the record that she had not freely converted to Islam or freely married her captor. Instead, she reported that she was forced to do these things against her will and under threat of harm.
A month later, Maria appeared before a court and repeated this statement. After this hearing, the court allowed Maria to return home to her parents. Fearing threats and a repeated abduction, Maria’s family moved to a new neighbourhood where they remain in hiding.
Abductions and assaults on women and girls from Pakistan’s religious minority communities, like that experienced by Maria, are unfortunately common. According to a study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian community are assaulted, kidnapped, forcefully married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.
The issue of religion is also often injected into cases of sexual assault to place religious minority victims at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
Following the successful recovery of victims, some victims and their families report continued suffering. Perpetrators often avoid prosecution for their crimes and can openly harass victims and families with impunity.
In Maria’s case, this harassment has forced the family into hiding. Unless they receive assistance from Pakistani authorities, the family will likely remain in hiding until Maria’s captors lose interest and give up looking for her.
Source: International Christian Concern
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