By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Christian and Muslim rights activists have launched a New Year campaign in Pakistan to tackle the massive abduction and abuse of Christian girls and young women who are often forced to marry Muslims and convert to Islam.
“The kidnapping of Christian girls and forcibly marrying them to a Muslim is the most common procedure for forced conversion to Islam,” complained Sardar Mushtaq Gill, national director of the Pakistan-based advocacy group Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD).
He told BosNewsLife that LEAD is cooperating with the Muslim Friends Foundation, a Pakistani Muslim rights group, underscoring wider concerns in this Islamic nation that “police
are reluctant to take any legal initiatives against the culprits.”
Gill called targeting Christian girls “a pleasurable activity for a Muslim man in Pakistan as he wins sympathy of other Muslims by telling them that he has converted a Christian girl to Islam.”
The campaign follows five known recent incidents involving the kidnapping of Christian girls, including in the Pattoki city area of Punjab province. A young Christian girl in Pattoki was reportedly abducted October 7 and raped for a month before being forced to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim in the town of Serai Cheemba.
The alleged attacker, publicly identified as Muhammad Shoukat, and his accomplices allegedly falsified marriage documents.
“With the help of LEAD, she has been recovered after paying 45,000 Rupees ($400) to the kidnappers,” said Gill, who added that she was offered an alternative working place and that her family has been brought to “a safe place.”
He also said that the lives of Christian Sajid Masih and Bashir Masih, the father of his kidnapped fiancee, are in danger since she was abducted October 19, forcibly converted to Islam “and given in marriage to a Muslim man, Allah Rakha” in Punjab’s Changa Manga area.
Several days later, a Christian married deaf-mute woman was reportedly gang raped by three Muslims on October 23 in the village of Bonga Ghanda Singh Wala in Punjab’s Kasur district. “She asked the rapists for mercy but they mercilessly made her the target of their lust,” Gill explained.
The same day Christian woman Sonia Bibi, 20, was recovering in hospital in Multan city after she was burned over nearly half her body by a Muslim man she had refused to marry, according to LEAD investigators.
And on November 9, Christian girl Sana Bibi, 13, was reportedly abducted while travelling to her school with her sister Hina Bibi. She was later forced to convert to Islam and marry her Muslim kidnapper Waheed Akhtar, said Gill. The other suspects involved in the case were publicly identified as Ali Raza, Badar and Razia, while one alleged attacker has not yet been named.
Though the case was registered at police, local law enforcement authorities are “using lame excuses not to arrest the kidnappers,” Gill said.
He hopes the ‘Movement of Women Rights Awareness’ campaign will lead to a wider debate and force authorities to intervene in the abduction of Christian women and girls.
“We don’t have any issues with a person who converts to another faith with her free will and get married with free consent,” Gill told BosNewsLife, “but when someone is abducted, forcibly converted and married then it is difficult to keep quiet.”
To remain silent about women’s human rights would be “an act of sin towards them and particularly here at LEAD,” he added.
He said his group wants to raise its voice for “defenseless Christian girls” who are often giving “statements before a judge in favor of the accused because of fear of ‘apostasy charges’”, or abandoning Islam, which could carry the death penalty.
“When the cases reach the courts, judges often hand over the girl to the accused if the statement is given in their favor without considering whether the victim is a minor or whether she lives in fear,” Gill explained.
“In most cases, the girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse or discarded from home after some time,” he stressed.
If the girl’s family goes to police, the “rapist” files a counter case “accusing the Christian family of harassing the willfully converted and married woman and for trying to force the woman back to Christianity,” Gill noted. Additionally a Christian family may face death threats if they take legal action against a Muslim man, he said.
Gill explained that the latest campaign in cooperation with a Muslim group is part of wider efforts by LEAD to “provide free legal assistance and advocacy to those victims of religious discrimination and sexual and domestic violence who can not afford to bear the heavy legal costs of counsels.”
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