- 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
VIENNA (10 December 2020) – Many Christian women in Pakistan face a difficult Christmas this year. Unable to celebrate the birth of Christ publicly, they must worship in secret, fearing discrimination, mob violence, or even jail time under blasphemy laws. For teenagers, the fear is exceptionally great. An estimated 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are forcibly married and converted every year. Maira Shahbaz is just one of them. She will be with her family in hiding over this season. She escaped her captor – but not before he brutalized, blackmailed, married and forcibly “converted” her. Her lawyer, supported by ADF International, is currently working to anul 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
Pakistan is recognized as one of the most dangerous places to be a Christian. According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2020 Annual Report, nearly 80 people are currently imprisoned for blasphemy, at least half of which are facing a life sentence or even death. Minorities are exposed to mob-violence with the perpetrators enjoying impunity from the authorities. However, global human rights institutions are still lacking in response.
According to local human rights organizations, an estimated 1,000 women and girls are converted to Islam each year through forced marriage. This is usually achieved 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 is set at 16 years. Today, UN Women concluded their 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.
“The international community must take action to prevent such extreme violations of fundamental rights in Pakistan. Maira’s case is a much too frequent example of what religious minorities face in the country and can no longer go unnoticed. All people have 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.