Almost weekly, news regarding Hindu and Christian children being kidnapped and abused by Muslim men emerge from Pakistan. Once abducted, these girls are forcefully converted to Islam, “married”, and raped. Many are forced to live with their abductors, and never see their families again.
One of the latest victims is an 11-year-old Hindu girl in Sindh Province. The kidnapped girl was identified as Jiji Bheel, a resident of Tando Allahyar village. She was reportedly abducted at gunpoint by a 28-year-old Muslim man who then forced her conversion to Islam.
The news website Organiser reported that “The horrific development occurred exactly a week after another minor Hindu girl identified as Ekta Kumari Sonaro was abducted from Kada Bazaar of Karachi of Sindh province. Ekta has been reported to be untraceable since then.”
Kidnappings of minority children are commonplace occurrences in Pakistan. The Associated Press estimated that approximately 1,000 Hindu and Christian young girls across Pakistan are stolen from their families and forced to convert to Islam annually.
Another chilling example is from 2019. Two Hindu sisters Reena and Raveena, ages 13 and 15 respectively, were kidnapped from their home in Sindh and converted to Islam. The girls were then taken to Punjab Province, where they were married to two separate Muslim men at the headquarters of an Islamist political party, Sunni Tehreek. After initially disregarding complaints from the girl’s family members, the police registered a formal case and arrested twelve people. The Islamabad High Court, however, eventually ruled against the family and decided that the girls were above the legal marriageable age of 16, saying that the girls converted to Islam of their own free will.
The news website Organiser describes the human rights violations that children are exposed to after their abductions:
“The victims are subjected to sexual assault and mental torture by the abductors. This is followed by their being forced to sign a copy of the Nikaahnama [Islamic marriage certificate]. Once the Nikahnama is signed, the victims become the ‘legal wife’ of one of their abductors as the law itself shields the perpetrators from being tried. This even if the victim Hindu girls are minor prior to their conversion in captivity. Furthermore, in cases in which the victims’ families seek legal help, and pressure is exerted on the police to catch the culprits, the recovered girls are sent to shelters instead of their parental homes.
“The girls’ staying at government owned shelters facilitate further opportunities for their original abductors to continue to pressurize the victims to accept their fate and their new identity. Sometimes the victims are also threatened with dire consequences if they refuse to co-operate. For example, the lives of members of their families are threatened.
“Abducted, raped and mentally tortured, the victims often accept their fate. Magistrates are informed of their willingness to stay with their ‘husbands’ under their newly given Islamic identity. Those who strongly resist are sent back to the shelter. Periodically these girls either break down, or if they are fortunate enough, they return to their parents.”
The Hindu American Foundation gives further details:
“Often, after being abducted, these girls are forcibly married to random men, raped, sold into human trafficking rings, or forced into prostitution. Several Islamic seminaries in Sindh incite their Muslim students to convert Hindu girls, telling them that it is the equivalent of Haj-e-Akbari, or the greatest religious duty for Muslims. These seminaries hold the kidnapped Hindu girls against their will, convert them to Islam, and subsequently force them to marry Muslim men, often twice their age. Threatened into silence and fearful for the safety of their families, the girls are then taken to a local court by their abductors, where a judge usually sanctions the legality of the marriage and conversion.”
Christian children in Pakistan are also victims of abductions and forced conversions.
A report in 2022, entitled “Conversion without Consent: A report on the abductions, forced conversions, and forced marriages of Christian girls and women in Pakistan” issued by the Voice for Justice Organization and the Jubilee Campaign, notes:
“Although the majority of the girl victims of forced faith conversions and child marriage are minors, the fabricated age of all victims is deliberately altered to 18 years or above by perpetrators on certificates of marriage to avoid criminal conviction under the 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act according to which marriage to underage children is illegal and punishable by imprisonment…
“All minor girls are presented as adults and economically independent, and their marriages are executed in the absence of a lawyer or consent of a legal guardian (parents)…
“All girl victims are made to change their identity by changing their names…
“Many cases involving abduction, followed by child/forced marriage and forced conversions of minority girls are not reported to the police due to the stigma attached to the abduction followed by rape…
“The minorities lack access to justice due to financial constraints as exercising the right to fair trial involves a lot of financial resources, time, and efforts.
“The minorities face intimidation, harassment and threats from the Muslims that prevent them from following-up the cases in courts of law. Several girls reunited with families after they faced abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion; however, minorities are not likely to file petitions in court to bring perpetrators to justice due to the influence of the actors involved in conversion…
“Whilst all citizens in Pakistan face obstacles in access to justice, minority religious groups face even greater difficulties in the pursuit of justice. The police often turn a blind eye to reports of abduction and forced conversions, thereby creating impunity for perpetrators. The police forces, which are overwhelmingly Muslim, generally sympathize with the goal of converting religious minorities to Islam. In limited instances of police intervention, local leaders exert considerable pressure to prevent any action.”
The report gives many examples of abducted Christian children. “Persicla Dilawar, a 15-year-old Christian girl, for instance, was abducted from her home in Sumundhari, Faisalabad. Persicla’s father Dilawar reported he and his wife were asleep when Muslim man Muhammad Qasim broke into their home and kidnapped their daughter. Qasim reportedly threatened them with death if they reported the incident. Consequently, Qasim forcibly married Persicla.”
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was created by partitioning India in 1947 after the British granted them independence from colonialism.
Islam determines all aspects of the legal system of Pakistan. Article 2 of the Pakistani Constitution proclaims that Islam is “the State religion of Pakistan” and recognizes the Koran and Sunnah as the highest sources of law. Therefore, they are not to be contradicted by secular laws.
The Pakistani Constitution also legalizes discrimination against non-Muslims. It places restrictions on non-Muslims, as seen in Article 41(2), which provides that an individual must be Muslim to hold the office of President in Pakistan.
Although Hindu people are indigenous in the land that is today called Pakistan, the Hindu and Christian population currently comprises only around 3.6% of Pakistan’s whole population. Muslims constitute 96.4%.
According to the Hindu American Foundation,
“Discriminatory laws and constitutional injunctions in Pakistan have reduced religious minorities to second-class citizens, leading to gross human rights violations by both the state and non-state actors.
“In order to escape these rampant religious freedom violations, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, and Ahmaddiya Muslims have increasingly fled the country in the last several years. The annual influx of religious refugees from Pakistan, along with those from Afghanistan and Bangladesh, into India led to the passage of India’s Citizenship Amendment Act in 2019 to provide them with fast-track citizenship.”
Sadly, the EU has largely tolerated Pakistan’s war crimes (during Bangladesh’s 1971 War of Independence, for instance) and human rights violations, which include systematic persecution, and physical and sexual violence against religious minorities.
According to the EU, however, “Pakistan is a major development partner of the EU, with one of the largest programmes in Asia. For the 2021-2024 period, the amount available for bilateral cooperation with Pakistan is €265 million, including a bilateral investment allocation of €53 million.”
According to the same EU, “The European Parliament maintains that the foundations of a united Europe were laid on core values and principles, which bind countries and peoples together: respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and fundamental rights, including those of minorities. “
And to defend these values, the EU can use sanctions:
“Restrictive measures, or sanctions, are one of the EU’s tools to promote the objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). These include safe-guarding the EU’s values, its fundamental interests and security; consolidating and supporting democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law; preserving peace; preventing conflicts and strengthening international security.”
The values that the EU claims to defend run counter to Pakistan’s terrible human rights record. Hindus, along with other religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan, face severe persecution. Children are kidnapped, raped, forcibly converted to Islam and pressured to marry their abductors. This is done with the appearance of complicity from the government, police and judicial authorities.
All the trade agreements that the EU has made with Pakistan have not improved the security of Pakistan’s minority children. The situation has deteriorated, becoming increasingly alarming. Appeasement only feeds the crocodile. It is high time for a change. The EU should impose sanctions on Pakistani officials in retaliation for their systematic persecution and ongoing sexual abuse of religious minorities.
Trade deals with Pakistan should be conditional to constitutional reforms that would determine equality, security, and religious freedom for minorities. Also, if any humanitarian or economic assistance is requested by Pakistan, a fair proportion should automatically be contributed to Pakistani minorities.
Instead of promoting Pakistan as a “trade partner”, the EU executive should first stand with the persecuted minorities and hold the Pakistani government accountable.