An estimated 1,000 kidnappings take place every year in Pakistan of young Christian or Hindu women who ultimately stay with their Muslim abductors because of threats on the lives of relatives, according to a report.
The report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan concludes with a global appeal to end “forced marriages and conversions.”
It is being publicized by Barnabas Aid, a Christian ministry that supports Christians who are suffering persecution because of their faith.
The scenario plays out like this: A Christian or Hindu girl, usually between ages 12-25, is kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and forcibly “married” to her abductor.
When her parents call the police, the woman tells them that she voluntarily adopted Islam and married her husband. But that’s because her “husband” has told her she will be killed, along with her parents and family members, if she does not declare it’s her will to be married.
The report notes the Christian community in Pakistan has more than 2 million members, accounting for 42 percent of Pakistan’s minority population. Most of Pakistan’s Christians live in Punjab province.
“The prevalence of forced conversion and marriage [is] difficult to accurately estimate due to reporting deficiencies and the complex nature of the crime,” the report says.
Estimates range from 100 to 700 victim Christian girls every year and about 300 Hindu victims.
The report said the victim’s family usually files a First Information Report, or FIR, for abduction or rape with the local police station.
“The abductor, on behalf of the victim girl, files a counter FIR, accusing the Christian family of harassing the willfully converted and married girl, and for conspiring to convert the girl back to Christianity,” the report explains. “Upon production in the courts or before the magistrate, the victim girl is asked to testify whether she converted and married of her own free will or if she was abducted.”
In most cases, the girl remains in custody of the abductor while judicial proceedings are carried out.
“Upon the girl’s pronouncement that she willfully converted and consented to the marriage, the case is settled without relief for the family,” the report says. “Once in the custody of the abductor, the victim girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse.”
The report said the true scale of the problem is likely to be much greater, as a number of cases are never reported or don’t progress through the law-enforcement and legal systems.
One of the cases cited in the report is that of Nadia Naira. Barnabas Aid explained she was kidnapped in 2001 when she was 15. She told of why she could not speak out against her “husband” in court.
“[He] warned me that if I recorded any statements against him, my parents would be killed,” she said. ” … I was frightened and complied. … It was very painful to say this in court while my parents were present. But their safety was in my hands and I didn’t know how to handle the matter.”
Barnabas Aid said she was able to escape after 10 years in captivity, during which time she was abused and attacked, and gave birth to five children.
“But she and her family subsequently faced a prolonged campaign of harassment and threats, and Nadia eventually returned to her husband,” Barnabas Aid said.
Barnabas Aid said that in another case, Tania Rubecca was kidnapped in 2012 at the age of 22. She became a victim of human trafficking and was sold twice before being forcibly converted and married to one of her captors.
“Tania was one of a number of girls held by the traffickers, who intended to force them into sexual labor,” the group said. “She was beaten and repeatedly raped. Tania’s family had to lease out their home in order to pay a ransom for her return. She was severely traumatized by the ordeal and has required extensive psychological treatment.”
The report recommends to Pakistani officials that police-response times be improved in instances in which abduction is alleged to have occurred.
It also urges better identification of falsified marriage and conversion certificates; protection for women and families under threat from kidnappers; providing helplines for easy and safe reporting; and allocating funds for the rehabilitation of victims, including compensation for their families.