A Christian girl, who was recovered from the custody of her alleged Muslim abductor last week, told a local court in Faisalabad on Monday that she was kidnapped and taken to Gujrat where she was allegedly raped by the accused.
Recording her statement before Faisalabad Magistrate Bushra Anwar, 15-year-old Saba Nadeem narrated how the accused Yasir Hussain, 45, bundled her into a rickshaw on May 20, when she was going to work with her elder sister.
“We were heading to work when the accused forcibly put me in a rickshaw after pushing away my sister. He then put something on my mouth due to which I fell unconscious. I came back to my senses after two days and was told that I was in Gujrat.
READ MORE: Teenage Hindu girl abducted in Sindh, married off to Muslim
“He raped me for two days. I kept crying and pleaded him to let me talk to my parents but he did not listen. After two days the accused left me alone in the place where he was keeping me hostage,” Saba said in her testimony.
Earlier, Saba was kidnapped from the Rasool Park Road area on May 20. Her father, a sanitary worker at a local textile mill, and her mother, a domestic worker, told police that their neighbour Yasir Hussain had abducted their daughter.
Lala Robin Daniel, a Faisalabad-based rights activist who is helping the victim’s family with legal support, told Kross Konnection that Saba’s statement vindicated claims of church leaders and rights activists that underage minority girls are forced to convert their faith by their abductors in a bid to cover child rape.
“Police had earlier told Saba’s parents to wait for her statement of conversion and marriage claiming her Islamic Nikah [marriage contract] had been solemnized,” he said, adding that pressure from the community forced police to act promptly and recover the child.
READ MORE: Teenage Hindu girl gunned down by Muslim suitor in Sindh
Daniel said the accused Yasir did not appear in a sessions court on June 4 for confirmation of his pre-arrest bail after which the judge cancelled it. “We hope the police will now move to arrest the accused and include the sections related to rape and other offenses in the case,” 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, according to human rights organisations.
Although the Pakistani government dismisses such reports as “rubbish and baseless,” rights organisations say the actual numbers could be much higher as many cases go unreported.
READ MORE: IHC bans marriage for under-18s to protect child brides
The US State Department last 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.