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On International Human Rights Day, Christian Women in Pakistan Hope for Freedom

  • An estimated 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are forcibly married and “converted” in Pakistan every year
  • A 16-day campaign championed by UN Women has overlooked the vulnerability of women of faith

LONDON (10 December 2020) – Many Christian women in Pakistan face a difficult Christmas this year. Unable to celebrate publicly, they must worship in secret, fearing discrimination, mob violence or even jail time under blasphemy laws.

Teenagers face unique danger. An estimated 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are forcibly married and converted every year. Maira Shabaz is just one of them. She will be with her family in hiding over this season.

She escaped her captor – but not before he brutalised, blackmailed, married and forcibly “converted” her. Together with her lawyer, ADF International is currently working to annul the marriage certificate.

“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. In Pakistan, young Christian girls are abducted and converted through forcible marriage simply because of their faith. The case of Maira is a shocking example of these practices.

We hope the international community will open its eyes to what is happening in Pakistan and help protect Christians and other minorities who belong to some of the most vulnerable groups in the country,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia for ADF International.

The international community must protect girls like Maira this Christmas

Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that a “sea change” is needed in the UK’s approach to protecting Christians, who “frequently carry the heaviest burden of persecution”, as outlined in a report presented to the government last year.

At the UN Human Rights Council in March, the UK international ambassador for Human Rights Rita French urged discussion on steps to be taken “to overcome the barriers, discrimination and persecution which restrict and prevent people from exercising their freedom of religion or belief.”

With Pakistan identified as a “human rights priority country” by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it’s likely that girls like Maira would have been on the mind of the Ambassador. However, global human rights institutions are still lacking in their responses.

On 10 December, UN Women concluded its promotion of a 16-day campaign to highlight violence against women, yet did not shine a light on the vulnerable situation of those belonging to minority Christian groups.

“Christians are the most persecuted religious group and it’s encouraging that the UK government is no longer turning a blind eye to this fact. Still, more must be done to protect their safety and fundamental freedoms. At a time of international focus on violence against women, it’s critical to recognise that Christian women face rights abuses because of their faith, including extreme violence, threats, enslavement, kidnappings, forced marriage and rape.

Though often perpetrated by non-state actors, the persecution of Christians also happens at the hands of governments. We urge the international community to call out these governments for their violations and take action against such behaviour. All states must ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” said Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF UK.

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