Concern grows for Pakistani-Christian girls who are seen as easy targets for forced conversion through rape

Source:             www.assistnews.net

Date:                 July 29, 2015

By Michael Ireland, Senior Reporter, ASSIST News Service This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PUNJAB, PAKISTAN (ANS, July 29, 2015) -- A Christian mother of three who was kidnapped and raped by her Muslim landlord, has again highlighted the dangers faced by young women who are followers of Christ.

According to the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) www.britishpakistanichristians.org,   the incident occurred on July 23, 2015 when Fouzia Sadiq was abducted from a field located at at Burj Mahalam, Chak No.35, Pattoki**, located in Punjab Province of Pakistan, where she worked on as a bonded laborer.

mi BPCA Officer Mehwish Prays with victim familyBPCA says details of the abduction have not yet been made public. However, Muslim landlord Muhammed Nazir employed the whole family, including the children in a form of modern day slavery, paying very little money and providing squalid shelter. The husband signed a contract with a thumbprint because he was unable to read it. Only 7 percent of Christians attain an adequate level of literacy.

In an e-mail update, obtained by ASSIST News, BPCA says: “This family has been oppressed for generations and when they discovered their daughter had been abducted they approached the landlord's house and were told by the brother that she would be returned shortly. The family simply waited prayerfully for the return of their daughter and told no-one of the incident. The next day when they returned for their daughter they were threatened with violence and warned not to say anything as the girl was now property of Muhammed Nazir who had married her after she had allegedly accepted Islam.”

BPCA said its officer Mehwish Bhatti has travelled to the location to speak with the family and has offered help, which the family have accepted. “We will be placing the family in our BPCA safe house and have already coordinated a solicitor who will challenge the local Police station to register an FIR (First Incident Report).”

Iqra Sadiq, Fouzia's sister, said: "My sister has been missing for five days and police are refusing to register an FIR, my heart is broken. Our landlord is a cruel man and we have been starving since he stopped the little payment that was due to us. We have no power and have to face such injustice, please help us!"

BPCA says Mehwish Bhatti left enough money for the family to survive and travel to its secret safe house. The family consist of Father Sadiq Masih (60) who is paralyzed and cannot work, his wife Bashira (55), and seven children. “Mehwish left enough money for the family to feed themselves and to travel to our safe house. We are desperately going to need donations to help them further,” the advocacy group said.

BPCA says tragedies such as these are not rare, but commonplace and in their April 2014 report "Movement of Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan" stated that 1,000 girls are abducted, raped and forced into Islamic marriage every year, 700 of which are estimated to be Christian girls.

BPCA cites the latter’s report, which states: "....cases of forced marriages/conversions follow a distinctive pattern: Christian girls — usually between the ages of 12 and 25 — are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party. The victim’s family usually files a First Information Report (FIR) for abduction or rape with the local police station. The abductor, on behalf of the victim girl, files a counter FIR, accusing the Christian family of harassing the willfully-converted and married girl, and for conspiring to convert the girl back to Christianity. Upon production in the courts or before the magistrate, the victim girl is asked to testify whether she converted and married of her own free will or if she was abducted. (In most cases, the girl remains in custody of the abductor while judicial proceedings are carried out). Upon the girl’s pronouncement that she willfully converted and consented to the marriage, the case is settled without relief for the family. Once in the custody of the abductor, the victim girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse."

According to the BPCA email, in Jan 2012, The News (http://www.thenews.com.pk) reported on a Muslim brothel that had been created with Christian rape and forced conversion victims, in a place called Ayub Goth, near the town of Essa Nagri in Karachi, only meters away from a Catholic Church.

BPCA states: “Moreover, Muslim men gather in the very same Christian area every evening armed with guns and pick which houses they will loot and which girls will be raped. In one incident, an elderly mother from Essa Nagri, told The News. ‘I had to bear the screaming of her two daughters while she was behind a locked door in another room crying and praying.’ She has been quoted as saying: ‘I saw two of my daughters being raped in front of me.’ It is considered that Chooras have no integrity.’ She says that around midnight, men from other areas start gathering in their neighborhood. ‘They are usually drunk. They choose which home they will plunder.’”

The BPCA is currently providing shelter for the family of Sherish and Farzana and free legal aid, after the two sisters were abducted at gunpoint, brutalized and gang-raped for more than 12 hours.

These sisters were then dumped naked and unconscious in the same field they were kidnapped from and found by their father and a friend who had been up all night searching for them. The girls were left vulnerable as their annual earnings were GBP£592 (USD$925) per year, meaning they could not afford a toilet at their home and had to use a local field to relieve themselves. When the sisters' family took the case to the local police they were ignored until humanitarian pressure resulted in an FIR being laid and arrests being made.

BPCA’s Mehwish Bhatti stated: “The pain felt by our sisters in Pakistan wounds the heart of our community. Latest victim Fouzia Bibi was a mother of three, yet she may still be forced to remain in the forced Islamic marriage despite existing legal precedents from Lahore High court which clearly state that a ‘married Christian woman cannot be remarried to a Muslim even if converted. Sexual abuse against religious minority women is covered under Hadu’d laws – which does not distinguish rape from adultery and gives the same punishment in both cases. Moreover, these cases are tried in Islamic Shari’a courts which are permitted to give punishments to non-Muslims but forbid the appearance of non-Muslim lawyers in court or to be a presiding officer. Non-Muslims are also not considered equal witnesses to Muslims in Shari’a courts. Worse still, radical clerics and imams in their mosques and madrassers preach that if you rape non-Muslim minority women then you will obtain a special status in heaven.’"

He added: "I fear for Fouzia and will pray endlessly for our sister as she has to fight a system set up to undermine Christians. When courts make judgements in these cases more often than not, they forgo the age limit allowing forcible marriages of girls under the legal age of 14, discounting family objections and basing decisions on the testimonies of weeping victims. Victims who claim to be consenting to the marriage and having adopted Islam, when the girls have never been removed from the custody of the assailants and are threatened with violence to them and their families if they dare to speak the truth. In such cases the authority of a Muslim man's words significantly outweighs that of Christians, so they have little hope of ever retrieving Fouzia from a life of pain, brutality and debauchery."

Mehwish Bhatti concluded: "These injustices have been allowed to continue unchecked by a government insouciant to the concerns of their largest minority. While the west continues to fund Pakistan through large foreign aid subsidies, they make themselves more complicit in the ongoing genocide of minorities living there. The BPCA has so often called for a cessation of Britain's foreign aid budget to Pakistan or use of the budget as a lever for change in the poor human rights record of Pakistan. But realpolitick based on intrinsic trade agreements and ostensible ally status of Pakistan in the war against terror have created little appetite in our heartless politicians for such action.”

**Pattoki is a town in the Kasur District of the Punjab province of Pakistan. It is the headquarters of Pattoki Tehsil, an administrative subdivision of the district. It is the only city in Pakistan that has a flower market mainly for roses. The city is known as "The City of Flowers."

Photo One: BPCA Officer Mehwish Bhatti prays with the victim family (Courtesy BPCA).

Photo Two: Michael Ireland

Michael Ireland small useAbout the writer: Michael Ireland is a Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as a volunteer Internet Journalist and Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Click http://paper.li/Michael_ASSIST/1410485204 to see a daily digest of Michael's stories for ANS.

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