Forced marriages on the rise in countries with high Christian persecution
A new report from Open Doors, “Same Faith, Different Persecution,” details how religious persecution affects men and women differently. Women are particularly vulnerable to different expressions of persecution than men, including sexual violence. The report reveals that in the fifty countries with the highest level of Christian persecution, forced marriages of women have increased by sixteen per cent.
Abduction and forced marriage are a particularly widespread problem in Pakistan’s minority communities. In October 2019, three men waited until Huma Younus’ parents left their home before barging in and taking fourteen-year-old Huma by force.
A few days later, the kidnappers sent Huma’s parents copies of a marriage certificate and documents alleging her conversion to Islam. Huma was forced to live as the wife of one of her abductors, and last summer, her parents learned that she had become pregnant from repeated rape.
To Huma’s parents’ dismay, the Sindh High Court ruled in February 2020 that the marriage was legal based on Islamic law, which says men can marry underage girls if they have had their first menstrual cycle. Today, Huma remains subject to unknown abuses in the home of the man who kidnapped her.
In Pakistan, perpetrators choose Christian and Hindu girls as their victims so they can use the country’s religious tensions to cover up their crimes. When a possible instance of forced conversion occurs, the perpetrator will often tell Muslim members of the community that it is inappropriate to question someone’s conversion to Islam.
It can be dangerous for a girl to tell authorities or the courts that she did not truly want to convert to Islam; she may face threats against her safety or her family. Mob rule often affects Pakistan’s justice system and weakens the government’s ability to protect the most vulnerable.