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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_custom_heading text=”By ICC’s Pakistan Correspondent” font_container=”tag:h6|text_align:left” use_theme_fonts=”yes” css=”.vc_custom_1524746114971{margin-bottom: 22px !important;}”][vc_single_image image=”112121″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]05/01/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)For Christians in Pakistan, abductions, sexual assaults, forced conversions, and forced marriages continue to be a significant abuse faced by their community. In 2019, International Christian Concern (ICC) documented at least 50 separate incidents of Christian women and girls being affected by this issue.

In January 2019, a 16-year-old Christian girl named Maria (her name has been changed for security purposes) was the victim of one of these incidents.

On January 27, Maria was abducted from a relative’s house in Punjab, Pakistan, by a group of Muslim men. For several weeks, Maria was raped multiple times in captivity, forced to convert to Islam, and married to one of her captors. According to Maria, she was severely beaten by four men after she initially refused to convert to Islam.

When Maria’s family came to know that she was missing, they immediately filed a report with the local police. Through several weeks of police efforts, Maria was recovered. However, this was only the beginning of the legal battle Maria and her family had to wage against her captors. It was also several weeks before Maria was allowed to return home to her family.

The legal battle started in March 2019 with Maria stating for the record that she had not freely converted to Islam or freely married her captor. Instead, she reported that she was forced to do these things against her will and under threat of harm.

A month later, in April 2019, Maria appeared before a court and repeated this statement. After this hearing, the court allowed Maria to return home to her parents. Fearing threats and a repeated abduction, Maria’s family moved to a new neighborhood where they remain in hiding.

Forced conversions are just one form of systematic and gross human right violations in Pakistan,” Peter Jacob from the Center for Social Justice in Pakistan told ICC. “The price is paid heavily by the most vulnerable sections of society, and this carries a manifold impact on their lives.

Abductions and assaults on women and girls from Pakistan’s religious minority communities, like that experienced by Maria, are unfortunately common. According to a study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian community are assaulted, kidnapped, forcefully married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.

The issue of religion is also often injected into cases of sexual assault to place religious minority victims at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.

Following the successful recovery of victims, some victims and their families report continued suffering. Perpetrators often avoid prosecution for their crimes and can openly harass victims and families with impunity.

In Maria’s case, this harassment has forced the family into hiding. With little hope of assistance from Pakistan’s authorities, the family will likely remain in hiding until Maria’s captors lose interest and give up looking for her.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1588173177046{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]