Forever Scarred by Persecution – Victim of Forced Conversion in Pakistan Shares Her Testimony
By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent
04/05/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “I do not remember the exact date, but it was almost [the] middle of June, the hottest month of 2015, when my misery started,” Komal*, a Christin teenager in Pakistan, told International Christian Concern (ICC) with tears in her eyes. Last year, Komal became one of the hundreds of Christian girls in Pakistan that are abducted, raped, and forcibly converted to Islam.
According to many Christian leaders, forced conversion to Islam is second only to false blasphemy accusations in issues affecting Pakistan’s vulnerable Christian community. According to a study by the Movement for Solidary and Peace in Pakistan published in 2014, as many as 700 Christian women and girls, often between the ages of 12 and 25, are victimized this way each year.
Unfortunately, Komal was among the Christian victims affected by this issue last year. Similar to reports from other Christian victims, Komal was abducted by a group of Muslim men, beaten, raped numerous times throughout her six months of captivity, forcibly married to one of her rapists, forcibly converted to Islam, and forced into prostitution by her Muslim “husband.”
Recently, through a daring escape, Komal was able to return home to her parents and share her testimony about the persecution she faced.
“I am 15-years-old [and] the youngest daughter of my elderly parents who work at a brick-kiln factory,” Komal told ICC. “They did not have enough of [an] income for my education, therefore I have never been to school, although I wished.”
“I was sleeping along with my mother on a single bed during a power-cut time in my house yard,” Komal said, remembering the day she was abducted. “[At] around midnight, five armed men with masks climbed over the boundary wall and entered into [our] house.”
“The armed men brutally beat the entire family and threatened them [with] severe consequences if they shouted for help,” Komal continued. “Then, the kidnappers dragged me from my mother’s lap to their car in the street.”
“My eyes and mouth were covered with a piece of cloth and they took me to [an] unknown place where five of them raped me in front of each other, taking turns,” Komal said. “I think it was a neighboring city from where they kidnapped me.”
Komal abduction was, unfortunately, only the beginning of her suffering. “Burning my female parts with cigarettes was a routine exercise for them,” Komal shared when asked about how she was treated in captivity. “The kidnappers often teased Christians, especially disrespecting Christian women. Almost for two months they beat me every day for nothing and did not give [me] enough food to eat.”
As is often the case in forced conversion situations, Christian victims are coerced into legally changing their religion to Islam and accepting one of their rapists as a “husband” because of threats and violence. Because child marriage is illegal in Pakistan, documents claiming a victim is over 18 are often forged. As a result, the forced marriage is used as a way to trap a victim because, in Pakistan, a woman’s husband has full legal custody over his wife. Despite only being 15, Komal was also victimized in this way.
“After almost two months of inhuman treatment and humiliation, they took me to a courthouse and forced me to put my thumb impression on a document that declared me the wife of a Muslim,” Komal continued. “I did not want this to happen, however, I had no other option because they threatened to kill my parents if I did not obey. Therefore, they forcefully married me to a Muslim and converted me to Islam.”
“Without my wish they changed my religion, my identity and even my name,” Komal said. “My new husband, who continued to rape me for the next two months, then moved to another city. This man already had two wives at his house.”
“At this stage, I experienced the worst agony of all,” Komal continued. “I felt like dying every day when my husband forced me to have [relations] with other visitors for earning money. I had become a forced prostitute. He even hired a watchwoman to keep an eye on me almost round the clock.”
“I spent the next six months in captivity,” Komal explained. “However, I had faith that Jesus would get me out of this hell.”
“In February, I had a golden opportunity to escape,” Komal said. “Before sun rose, I managed to sneak away from the house to an urban area after walking for about five hours. I begged for money from the people there to cover a bus fare and was able to reach my home after sunset on the same day.”
“I am thankful for this mercy and the miracle of rejoining my parents now,” Komal said with a smile on her face. “I couldn’t stop crying when I hugged my parents and family for the first time. One can hardly imagine the painful situation which I and my parents experienced. It was like rising from the dead.”
Despite returning home to her family, Komal still faces significate struggles following her abduction and forced conversion. “When I returned home, I was five months pregnant,” Komal shared. “I am confused about what to do with my unborn baby. What will the future of my child be if I give birth to him or her?”
For all victims of forced conversion, the pursuit of justice is nearly impossible. In many cases, police side with the Muslim abductors and often forcefully return victims to their Muslim “husbands” because they have primary custody. In cases where victims are able to secure legal representation, the Christian family is threatened with violence or a false blasphemy accusation until they are forced to drop their case.
“I want justice, but do not want to put my parents into danger,” Komal said when ICC asked her what she wanted to do now. “Those people are very rich and influential and therefore we cannot go into the legal process against them. I just want to be divorced and try to plan a happier life.”
Unfortunately for Komal, her Muslim abductors may have already robbed her of that simple wish. As an uneducated Christian girl in Pakistan, her opportunities for securing a happy life were already limited before her abduction. Her best opportunity was her ability to secure a good marriage. The stigma of being a rape victim and giving birth to the child of an unknown Muslim father will likely deter many potential suitors, leaving Komal forever scarred by persecution.