By Martin Barillas
September 19, 2011
The abduction and forced conversion to Islam of Christian girls who are then married against their will to their captors is a disturbing and growing trend in Pakistan; it is estimated that there are over 700 cases every year, according to the Barnabas Fund – a Christian advocacy group based in the UK.
One of the latest incidents involved a 14-year-old girl, Mehek Rashid, who was kidnapped at gunpoint from her home in Shisharwali, Gujranwala, by a gang of five armed Muslim men. One of her abductors yelled that he would purify Mehek by converting her to Islam before marrying her. The local authorities are refusing to investigate the case, apparently because the assailants are from a prominent Muslim family.
It is sadly an all too familiar story in Pakistan, where a senior church leader has warned that the “the cases of forced conversion are rising at an alarming rate”.
In another recent case, a young Christian woman, Mariam Gill, was abducted on her way home from the market in Kahota by a Muslim businessman who had previously asked her to marry him and been refused. She was forcibly converted and married to her kidnapper. His actions were praised by the Muslim leader who conducted the ceremonies as “a pious act”.
The authorities initially refused to intervene; a local police officer said Mariam acted of “her own free will”. But after she was questioned by officials and told them that she had been abducted and forced to convert, they returned Mariam to her family. The young woman’s ordeal is not over, however; her kidnapper threatened “terrible consequences” if he did not get her back.
Violence and rape
The forced conversions and marriages are often carried out by influential Muslim families who threaten and severely beat the young girls to frighten them into compliance, as seemingly happened in the case of Farah Hatim. The authorities rarely take action, and often the young girls never return to their families unless they manage to escape their captors. The girls are often raped and become pregnant, making it almost impossible for the courts to release them.
One father was told by police to “forget his daughters” after the two Christian sisters were abducted, raped and forcibly converted in Faisalabad in May.