Surge of kidnapping Christian, Hindu girls in Pakistan

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An CAN report

According to the Catholic organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “research in Pakistan indicates that up to 700 girls were kidnapped in one year alone.”

Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw of Lahore said that in response to the increase in abductions, Christian leaders took the problem to the police “but they were not listening” so they went straight to the government. ‘We raised it with the government and they took up the matter. Along with the Islamic council, they arranged a meeting with myself and leaders from the Muslim and Hindu communities. I participated in the meeting… One young Islamic scholar criticised the kidnappings and said forced conversions are not allowed.’

“Despite this, Archbishop Shaw was optimistic about the future of Pakistan, seeing the current government, headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, as moving in the right direction. He said: ‘The present government are working on equality. All people should have a sense of belonging.'”

Archbishop Sebastian Francis Shaw

Nevertheless, according to the latest annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF):

In 2018, religious freedom conditions in Pakistan generally trended negative despite the Pakistani government taking some positive steps to promote religious freedom and combat religiously motivated violence and hate speech. During the year, extremist groups and societal actors continued to discriminate against and attack religious minorities, including Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and Shi’a Muslims. The government of Pakistan failed to adequately protect these groups, and it perpetrated systematic, ongoing, egregious religious freedom violations; this occurred despite some optimism about the potential for reform under the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan.”

The findings above seem to indicate that not much has changed in Pakistan in the years since the murder in 2011 of the governor of the Punjab Province, Salman Taseer, presumably for his having condemned the country’s blasphemy laws and for his defence of Asia Bibi. Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy, was finally released in October 2018.

Two months after Taseer’s murder, Pakistan’s Minister of Religious Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was assassinated after “urging reform to blasphemy laws.”

ISLAMABAD: Members of Christian and other communities hold placards during protest outside National Press Club in Islamabad against kidnapping, forced conversion of religion and marriage of Hindu and Christian and Hindu girls.

The abuses committed by radical Islamists against Muslims and non-Muslims alike is not merely a crime; it is a global threat. A first step towards eradicating this threat might be establishing an international interfaith coalition of Muslims, Christians and other religions, with chapters in every country, to stand up against religious persecution and on behalf of the right of every individual to harbour beliefs and engage in practices of his or her choosing.

According to ‘Aid to the Church in Need’, a surge in under-age Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan being kidnapped, raped and forced to marry and convert to Islam has been condemned by one of the country’s leading bishops.

In an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore confirmed reports of abductions involving girls as young as 14, acts he condemned as “a crime”.

His comments come amid research in Pakistan’s Punjab Province stating that up to 700 girls had been abducted in one year. He said: “Yes, [abductions of under-age girls] are happening” and he added that “there have been many kidnappings recently.”

“Kidnapping is a crime. It has to be treated as one. This is the only way to stop it. The girls are usually 14, 15. The men often already have one wife. They can be 25 or older. They can be younger, more like 20.”

He believed there was a religious aspect to the kidnappings, particularly as the girls are Hindu or Christian. Yet, the archbishop did not believe it was the only explanation. “It is lust. They think ‘she is pretty and I want her’. It is a crime. But it has a possible religious component too.”

ISLAMABAD: Members of all sections of society and activists of human rights organisations hold demonstration against the forced kidnapping, religion conversion and marriage of Christian and Hindu girls and women in various cities of the country since the condemnable act occurred with 13-year old Christian girl Arzoo Raja in Karachi. The first four pictures reflect protest in Islamabad, next three pictures from Lahore, Hyderabad and Karachi respectively. In Lahore, people also protest against kidnapping of another Christian girl Mehwish Haroon Masih and demanded to the Governor Ch. Mohammad Sarwar and Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to take measures for the recovery of Christian girl.

The archbishop said that in response to the increase in abductions, Christian leaders took the problem to the police “but they were not listening” so they went straight to the government.  “We raised it with the government and they took up the matter. Along with the Islamic council, they arranged a meeting with myself and leaders from the Muslim and Hindu communities. “I participated in the meeting… One young Islamic scholar criticised the kidnappings and said forced conversions are not allowed.”

Despite this, Archbishop Shaw was optimistic about the future of Pakistan, seeing the current government, headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, as moving in the right direction. He said: “The present government are working on equality. All people should have a sense of belonging.” He was optimistic about the Church in Pakistan, too. He said: “Nearly 60 percent are young people. We are helping people have a good education, a quality education, and become professional.

“This is new, particularly for Catholics. We have good catechism and teach them why they are Christian. We train them for dialogue with Muslims. We teach them the difference between dialogue and debate.”

Archbishop Shaw praised ACN’s work in Pakistan, saying: “I am thankful to ACN because ACN is supportive, particularly with pastoral activities.

“ACN is helping worldwide and whenever we turn to them they are helpful. Financial contributions, prayers and words of encouragement are always appreciated.” ACN funded 61 projects in Pakistan in 2018, including the construction of churches, training of religious and the formation of the laity.