Forcibly-married 14-year-old Maira hopes for Easter miracle
- Christian Pakistani abduction victim waits in hiding while lawyers work to annul marriage certificate
- In the run-up to Easter, persecuted Christians concerned about growing violence
VIENNA (1 April 2021) – Maira* loved to sing hymns at her church’s Easter service. This Easter, she is forced to hide rather than be able to join in celebrations. She had been abducted, forcibly married to a much older Muslim man, and must now wait in hiding after escaping. Forced “conversion” through marriage affects an estimated 1,000 girls from religious minorities in Pakistan every year.
Maira has experienced this dangerous reality herself. She escaped her captor – but not before he brutalized, blackmailed, married, and forcibly “converted” her from her Christian faith. When she sought justice, the Lahore High Court initially ordered that she be returned to her abductor. Working with local lawyer Sumera Shafiq, ADF International is seeking to annul her marriage certificate. She has been in hiding with her family for several months, hoping for positive news regarding her appeal any day now.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. We have observed increased violence against Christian minorities around feasts such as Christmas and Easter. Women are particularly vulnerable. At a time of international focus on violence against women, it’s critical to recognize that Christian women face rights abuses because of their faith, including extreme violence, threats, enslavement, kidnappings, and forced marriage. It’s imperative that everything is done to protect the rights of women and girls by ending faith-based persecution,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia, for ADF International.
The international community must protect girls like Maira
Pakistan is recognized as one of the most dangerous places for a woman to be a Christian. The practice of forced “conversions” disproportionately affects religious minorities and is usually carried out through kidnapping, sexual violence, and blackmail. Local authorities are often complicit in such cases. Sadly, courts have often failed to uphold the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which sets the legal age of marriage for girls at 16 years.
“The international community must take action to prevent such severe violations of fundamental rights in Pakistan. Maira’s case is a much too frequent example of what religious minorities face in the country. This can no longer go unnoticed. Everyone has the right to freely choose and live out their faith without fear of violence. All states must ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF international.
*Name changed for security reasons