“One afternoon, when I was coming home from school near Falsalabad, in the city of Medina, in the Punjab province of Pakistan, some men came towards us,” says Maira Shahbaz, who was 14 at the time. “They put me in a car and blindfolded me. After They stripped me naked, tortured me and raped me. They took pictures of everything. They told me that if I didn’t convert to Islam and sign that I had married one of the kidnappers they would kill my family.” Since she was late in returning home, her parents came looking for her and learned of the kidnapping from numerous witnesses.
The kidnappers were well known and had not bothered to hide because
It is a fairly common practice in Pakistan, in the case of Christian girls or women. The Police verified that both the conversion and the marriage were documented and ignored that those documents contained a false age, 19 years. Despite the girl stating before various court instances that she wanted to return home, the Lahore High Court ruled on August 20, 2020 that I was supposed to live with the kidnapper. The only difference between Maira and the thousands and thousands of girls and women victims of similar stories is that she managed to escape.
After months of captivity and taking advantage of an oversight, he fled home, which is why the extremist Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan called for his death sentence. His entire family had to live hidden in a hidden room until they managed to leave Pakistan through a route that they prefer not to reveal in order to protect those who helped them reach a safe destination abroad.
Regina Lynch, who just released Aid to the Church in Need’s ‘Hear Their Cries’ report, doesn’t like an article like this to start with Maira’s story. “The media focuses on one story per his human interest that moves the audience for a few minutes, and then forget it, ”he complains. «Here what counts is not a specific story but the dimension of the phenomenon, very widespread. In Nigeria, 95 percent of girls and women abducted by extremist Islamists are Christian. In Pakistan, 70 percent of those who are forced to convert and subjected to forced marriages are also converted. It is the figures that can mobilize international courts and organizations for the defense of Human Rights».
Ewelina Ochab, human rights defender and founder of the Coalition for the Response to Genocide, laments that “when it comes to issues of sexual violence, it is especially difficult to gather evidence because in certain cultures they bring shame to the family and also family members have fear of reprisals, so the cases are often not even reported”, but points out that “there is a growing consensus on the need to investigate these systematic abuses, measure them in order to act against them».
In the 2021 Open Doors World Watch List on persecution of minorities, it can already be seen that in 90 percent of the 50 countries listed Christian women are forced into marriages against their will, but the percentage does not sufficiently move the West, which still does not include this issue on its agenda. “Perpetrators are not only not usually persecuted, but they are even socially rewarded at the local level because they are guaranteeing a new generation of jihadists,” adds Lynch.
war of attrition
“The kidnappings and forced marriages of Christian girls and women, as well as the trade in Christian slaves for militia brothels, are part of a war of attrition that radical Islamists are waging against Christian minorities in countries like Egypt, where it is recognized as a method to end the Copts,” explains Michele A. Clark, a professor at the George’s Elliot School of International Affairs at the University of Washington. “A special feature of Islamic Sharia law greatly assists the perpetrators of these crimes, because if the mother has converted to Islam, the children are already considered Muslim. Even if the mother later decides to leave her Muslim family, both she and her children remain legally Muslim,” he adds, “and cases of kidnapping of Christian women are now so frequent and beginning to be so well documented that the United States government The United States recognizes the fear of kidnapping as a valid reason for granting asylum to Coptic women and girls.”
About a thousand Christian and Hindu women and girls are abducted and forced into marriage in Pakistan each year. Since 2014, this country has had a law that restricts child marriage, according to which family members and those affected can take legal action, but they rarely take the initiative if they are not supported by international organizations, as happened to Arzoo Raja, of 13 years old, who was kidnapped by a 44-year-old man and forced to convert. Your case has triggered Christian, Muslim and Hindu protests and has obtained the intervention of the Minister of Human Rights of Pakistan, Shireen Mazari, and the governor of the province of Sindh, Imran Ismail, who has established that “there can be no compromises when it comes to the marriage of minors”.
a wall of silence
The report ‘Hear their cries’ describes very serious situations also in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and Mozambique. In some of them, like Syria and Iraq, “it is impossible to count the cases because the families do not talk about it”, confirms Archbishop Nizar Nathaniel Semaan. In Nigeria, the government documented 210 cases in 2020 and acknowledges “that these crimes persist chronically” due to terrorism. “In Nigeria, the terrorist organization Boko Haram regularly launches ‘defense of the faith’ campaigns consisting of the systematic kidnapping of Christian girls since 2013,” Lynch denounces. Remember that, of the 276 girls kidnapped from a school in this country, more than a hundred are still missing. “Christian girls who fall into the hands of Boko Haram are often destined for brothels for fighters or are passed from hand to hand as sex slaves or sold as domestic slaves. The jihadists create female brigades like al-Janssaa, made up of European Muslim women who organize and control these brothels. Many situations are often legally covered up through so-called temporary marriages, which allow them to be repudiated when they no longer serve those purposes. Many do not survive,” notes the cruel outcome, which is why the director of Aid to the Church in Need in Germany, Florian Ripka, stresses that “politicians must ensure that Europe is a refuge for people who are victims of violence for religious reasons.”
“Asylum-seeking women, regardless of their faith or worldview, who report risk of kidnapping or forced conversion, should be taken seriously, believed and helped, based on this report,” Ripka claims, “and you lJournalists must continue to investigate, break the wall of silence that surrounds these crimes and publish these data. Religious persecution is a reality and living death for its victims.
Complaints are missing
Clark insists on the need for feminist movements to get involved in the prosecution of these crimes and welcomes the fact that some international courts, based on the principle of Universal Justice, are establishing jurisprudence. A Regional Court in Frankfurt, Germany, recently sentenced an Iraqi Islamic State member to life in prison for having let a five-year-old girl die of thirst whom he owned as a slave after having bought her along with the girl’s mother, both belonging to the Yazidi minority. The day of her death, in the summer of 2015, the girl had urinated on a pallet on which she slept and as punishment she was tied to a window railing for a whole day, in a patio in the sun, without being allowed to eat or drink water. The mother and the girl had been captured by the Islamic State in a village, on Mount Sijar in Iraq, where all the men were killed and the women raped and sold as slaves for five hundred or a thousand euros in exchange. “Sentences like these help start to change mindset, so that the perpetrators do not feel so unpunished”, he points out, “because often what they receive is the opposite message”, he adds.
On October 3, 2020, 20-year-old Magda disappeared on her way home from Al-Badari University in Asyut, Egypt. Three days later, she posted a video on social media wearing a hijab and declared that she had secretly converted to Islam six years ago and was now happily married. His family, Christian, moved heaven and earth to deny those phrases, but in public opinion they ended up curdling. Desperate, they offered a large ransom and Magda was left on the street a week later. Her family did not give more information about what the girl had suffered. Christian sources have suggested that his return was subject to conditions of silence and refraining from filing complaints.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism