(ADF International) – This International Women’s Day, Christian girls in Pakistan fear for their safety. Maira Shabaz knows the dangerous reality more than most. She escaped her captor – but not before he brutalized, blackmailed, married and forcibly “converted” her from her Christian faith.
The Lahore High Court initially ordered that she be returned to her abductor. She has been in hiding for several months with her family. Working with local lawyer Sumera Shafiq, ADF International is seeking to annul her marriage certificate.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. In Pakistan, young Christian girls are abducted and converted through forcible marriage simply because of their beliefs. The case of Maira is a shocking example of these practices. We hope the international community will open its eyes to what is happening in Pakistan and help protect Christians and other minorities who belong to some of the most vulnerable groups in the country,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of Advocacy, Asia for ADF International.
The international community must protect girls like Maira – According to UN Women, approximately 700 million girls worldwide have been married before their eighteenth birthday. One in every three girls in developing countries is married before reaching the age of 18 and one in nine is married under age 15.
Pakistan is recognized as one of the most dangerous places for a woman to be a Christian. The case of Maira Shabaz highlights a wider problem of forced “conversion” through marriage which affects an estimated 1,000 girls from religious minorities in this country every year.
The practice is usually carried out through kidnapping, sexual violence, and blackmail. Local authorities are often complicit in such cases. Sadly, courts have often failed to uphold the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which sets the legal age of marriage for girls at 16 years.
“The international community must take action to prevent such extreme violations of fundamental rights in Pakistan. Maira’s case is a much too frequent example of what religious minorities face in the country and can no longer go unnoticed. All people have the right to freely choose and live out their faith without fear of violence. All states must ensure that their laws and policies are in line with their commitments to protect religious freedom under international law,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF international.