The Shadow that Hangs over Pakistan: Forced Convertions

Perpetual Kahindo

It is reported that each year, one thousand Christian and Hindu Pakistani girls are forcibly converted to Islam. Pakistan, a beautiful country in South Asia, is a predominately Muslim country and one of the unsafest countries for religious majorities to live in. 

Minorities makeup just 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s two-hundred and twenty million people and often are the target of discrimination. So those that report forced conversations can be charged with the crime of Blasphemy. In December 2020, the U.S. State Department declared Pakistan “a country of particular concern” for its repeated violations of religious freedoms. 

NBC News said that “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”. The Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan explains that once the girls are kidnapped, they are forced to convert to Islam by reciting the shahadah in front of witnesses, and then they are immediately married off to their abductor but very often it’s older men looking for a bride or more wives.  

But it gets even darker, the network of how these forced marriages work is deeper than it appears. They go unchecked because they run on a money-making web that involves people of power so that it would be hard for the mothers, fathers, relatives of these girls to get them back, and even if they do, getting justice would be difficult. Child protection activists say, “It starts with Islamic clerics who solemnize the marriages, magistrates who legalize the unions and corrupt local police who aid the culprits by refusing to investigate or sabotaging investigations”.

The goal is to secure virginal brides rather than to seek new converts to Islam. Jibran Nasir, an activist who has studied these cases hands-on, refers to this network as a “mafia” that preys on non-muslim girls who are most vulnerable and easy targets to feed the disgusting desires of “older men with Pedophilia urges”. 

Storys like thirteen-year-old Hindu girl Sonia Kumari who was kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and married off to a thirty-six-year-old man with a wife and two kids are what sparked the outrage for these injustices. Her mother posted a video pleading for her child’s return but she was threatened and soon wrote a letter to an activist who was helping with the case, saying that Sonia had willingly converted and married the man. She has lost hope of ever seeing her child again.

But what really outraged the public, was the video of thirteen-year-old Arzoo Raja’s Mother sobbing hysterically outside the court as she pleaded for the Police to stop ignoring her daughter’s case and for her daughter to be returned. That same video which caught my attention about the crisis in Pakistan also awoke people everywhere to the reality of what was happing under our noses. 

The story of Arzoo, a young Christian girl who was kidnapped near her home without a trace, spread. Her parents reported her missing and the police informed them that their underage daughter had converted to Islam and was married to their forty-year-old Muslim neighbor. Arzoo’s parents told the police that their daughter was underage so the marriage was not even legal but the police told them that on the marriage certificate, it says she is nineteen, past the legal age of marriage which is eighteen in Pakistan. 

It came to light that the Islamic cleric who performed Arzoo’s marriage had done the same to three other underage marriages. The man was not held accountable for his crime because he argued that “under Islamic law a girl’s wedding at the age of fourteen or fifteen is fine.” He went on to continue his practice and we can only hope that scared him enough to stop authorizing underage marriages.

As for thirteen-year-old Arzoo, her husband was arrested but the damage he caused her mentally scared her. She refused to return home to her parents and her mother said that it is because her daughter fears the reciprocation of her husband’s family who keeps a close eye on her.

But these stories don’t just stop at these two, there are thousands of other religious minority girls who have gone missing in Pakistan or the police dropped their cases. How many more stories of children, kidnapped, forced to convert, and married off will we hear off from Pakistan? 

We saw it in Arzoo’s case that when the people, we the people, unite as one and get involved to fight against injustice, we leave corrupted officials no chance but to perform their rightful task and serve Justice. Because, where there is unity in the people, brought together by a common good, there is the power for change to occur. 

A Mother should never have to beg for her child to be given back, and no child nor adult should ever have to endure such horrors.