A Christian girl who was kidnapped earlier this month in Faisalabad and reportedly converted to Islam was recovered by the police on Sunday.
Saba, 15, was kidnapped from Rasool Park Road while she was going to work with her sister on May 20. In the First Information Report [FIR], her mother accused their neighbour Yasir of abducting the teen. Yasir, 45, is still at large.
“Saba is still suffering from emotional trauma,” said Lala Robin Daniel, a rights activist who initiated a series of daily protests from 7pm to midnight against forced conversions and marriages of minority girls in Faisalabad.
“Police had earlier told her parents to wait for her statement of conversion and marriage claiming her Islamic Nikah [marriage contract] had been solemnized,” he told Kross Konnection.
“The pressure from the community forced them to act promptly. At least 20 people were arrested. The recovery of the victim is a great success. We shall continue the struggle for other abducted Christian girls,” he added.
Church leaders and human rights groups cite forced conversion as the biggest challenge for the vulnerable minority communities of Pakistan. Inequality and marginalization leave religious minorities vulnerable to exploitation, they say.
At least some 1,000 women from religious minorities, including Christians and Hindus, are forcibly converted and married annually in Pakistan, Forbes magazine reported in February 2021, quoting human rights organisations.
Although Pakistan dismissed such reports as “rubbish and baseless,” Forbes said the actual numbers could be much higher as many cases go unreported.
The US State Department this month declared Pakistan “a country of particular concern” for violations of religious freedom — a designation the Pakistani government rejects.
The declaration was based in part on an appraisal by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that underage girls in the minority Hindu, Christian, and Sikh communities were “kidnapped for forced conversion to Islam… forcibly married and subjected to rape.”
While most of the converted girls are impoverished Hindus from southern Sindh province, cases involving Christians, including Saba’s, have roiled the country in recent months.
The girls generally are kidnapped by complicit acquaintances and relatives or men looking for brides. Sometimes they are taken by powerful landlords as payment for outstanding debts by their farmhand parents, and police often look the other way.
Once converted, the girls are quickly married off, often to older men or to their abductors, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.