More Than 550 Coptic Christian Schoolgirls in Egypt Kidnapped Since 2011

Egyptian Coptic Christians carry crosses and chant prayers at Abassaiya Cathedral in Cairo, (FILE) | (Photo: Reuters/Stringer)

More than 550 Coptic Christian schoolgirls in Egypt have been kidnapped by Muslim men and forced to convert and marry their abductors during the last three years, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD).

"The world reacted in horror and revulsion at the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in April," writes Mark Ellis of Godreports. "But twice as many Coptic Christian schoolgirls in Egypt have vanished slowly, one-by-one, in kidnappings that remain unsolved."

The kidnappings and captivity, occuring since January 2011 through March 2014, often include violence against the girls. For example, the traditional cross the Coptic minority tattoos on their wrists is erased with acid before these forced marriages, according to Terrasanta, a Catholic news service.

Although abductions have been documented during Anwar Sadat's government between 1970 and 1981, a dramatic surge began after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, reported Ellis.

Ebram Louis, the founder of AVAFD in Egypt, said that before the revolution "five or six girls would disappear each month. Now the average is 15."

AVAFD also reports that 40 percent of the girls and women that are abducted ages 14 to 40 are raped and subsequently forced to marry their captors after their conversion to Islam.

The victimization often begins with coercion by young Muslims, who first gain trust, then force the girls and women to convert and marry, according to the organization.

Ellis reports that many who have studied these atrocities feel there is an organized network behind the kidnappings. "Some maintain there are Islamic cells dedicated exclusively to the abduction of Coptic Christian girls and young women," he writes.

Police in Egypt often refuse to search for missing girls, claiming they ran away voluntarily from their parents' home, according to AVAFD. Young girls who are located are often accompanied to the police station by their new Muslim "relatives," who can be an intimidating presence during questioning. For example, under coercion the girls will say they voluntarily left the family home, according to Terrasanta.

Although Egyptian law forbids the marriage and conversion of minors, it is often overlooked because a man can simply show a marriage certificate, which can legitimize the "legal" union with his underage wife.

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