Series of Sexual Assaults Highlights the Vulnerability of Pakistani Christian Women and Girls
By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent
08/30/2019 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “Oppression exists in different layers for Christian girls in Pakistan. They are suffering on the bases of gender, religion, and class. It has been documented that young Christian girls face higher levels of sexual harassment and are persecuted for their Christian faith,” Nabila Feroz Bhatti, a human rights defender in Lahore, Pakistan, recently told International Christian Concern (ICC).
Bhatti made this grim statement in response to reports that five young Christian girls have been sexually assaulted in different parts of the province of Punjab in just the last two months.
Christian women and girls are among Pakistan’s most vulnerable members of society. In many cases, Christian women and girls are considered soft targets for abuse and assault because they are a “double minority”. To the assailants, these victims follow the “wrong religion” and are members of the “weaker gender”.
On July 2, Saira Shoukat, age 15 and a student of grade ten, was sexually assaulted by Muhammad Jafar and Ateequllah in Muzaffarghar. After several attempts by Shoukat’s family, local police finally registered First Information Report (FIR) #140/19 against Jafar and Ateequllah. This simple process, which initiates a police investigation, took almost a month for the local police to complete. However, the victim family is still facing significant problems as they are being pressured into withdrawing the case.
Days later, on July 8, Suneha Sajid, a 14-year-old Christian girl, was falsely accused of stealing gold worth approximately 1,500,000 PKR ($9,312.00 USD) by her Muslim employer in Shahdara, located near Lahore, in order to cover up a sexual assault. According to local reports, Sajid resisted the assault and threatened to file a complaint. For this, she was locked in a room and beaten several times. Finally, to cover up the incident, Sajid was accused of stealing gold.
In August, Yasmeen Ashraf, age 15, and Muqadas Tufail, age 14, were kidnapped and raped by three men in Kasur. The pair of Christian girls were taken when they were on their way to work as domestic workers.
Also in August, another young Christian girl, named Kanwal, was kidnapped, raped, and forcefully converted to Islam by a group of Muslim men and a cleric in Lala Musa, located in the Gujart District. After reuniting her family, Kanwal shared that she had been beaten, sexually assaulted, and threatened with the deaths of her brothers if she refused to convert to Islam. As with Shoukat’s family, Kanwal’s family is also facing ongoing threats from the assailants.
“It is unfortunate that the decision makers of the country have not made up their mind to respond to this crises,” Bhatti went on to tell ICC. “This is in spite of repeated appeals from civil society.”
“Sexual assault for Christian girls is a more acute problem than for boys from minority communities or even a Muslim girl,” Bhatti explained. “The government needs to take action to address the discrimination and exploitation faced by girls belonging to the religious minorities of Pakistan.”
Following Pakistan’s third Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations, in which violence against women and religious minorities were highlighted, Pakistan promised to combat all forms of discrimination and violence. The country promised to reinforce the relevant legal framework, run awareness campaigns, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
“Furthermore, Pakistan promised that the victims would receive appropriate help,” Bhatti reported. “But despite these promises, the situation is very grim till today.”
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