In Pakistan, a 14-year-old girl and her family were forced into hiding after she escaped her abductor who forcibly married her. She escaped and gave a statement to the court saying she was abused and blackmailed. Her lawyer has filed a petition for the conversion and marriage certificates to be cancelled while the appeal is being heard at the Lahore High Court, Rawalpindi Bench.
Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia for ADF International said: “Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. While the deteriorating situation for Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan has been well documented, little action has been taken by local authorities, to protect their rights. 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.
“The previous Lahore High Court ruling which ordered Maira to return to her abductors, endangered all Christian girls in the country. The government of Pakistan and the courts must protect the rights of minor girls who are being forced into these marriages.
“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.”
Severe religious persecution in Pakistan
“Maira’s case is not an isolated incident amongst Pakistan’s religious minorities. Every month new similar abductions are reported, especially of Christian girls that are forcibly married and converted this way. When they escape from their abductors, authorities are often slow or even reluctant to grant protection to these minors,” said Sumera Shafique, Maira’s lawyer.
Pakistan is recognised 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.
According to local human rights organisations, 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.
“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 abduction, violence, rape,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF international.