A Christian teenager in Pakistan claims to have been beaten, forced to convert to Islam and married off to a 45-year-old Muslim man as religious minority females in the Muslim-majority country continue to face extreme persecution because of their gender and faith.
Neha Pervaiz, a 15-year-old who lives in the Ittehad Town neighborhood of Karachi, recently told ucanews.com about how she was forced into an Islamic marriage last month when she went to her aunt’s house with the intent of taking care of a sick relative.
“I was taken by my aunt, a Muslim convert, to her house on April 28 to help her look after her sick son,” Pervaiz told ucanews.com, an outlet that exclusively covers Catholic news in Asia. “But there I was asked to marry a Muslim man named Imran. When I refused, they beat me up and threatened to kill my minor brother who was with me.”
Pervaiz alleged that she was taken to a room where she was raped by Imran, a divorcee.
“They then pressurized me to convert to Islam and marry Imran,” she added.
The next day, Pervaiz said that she was taken before an Islamic cleric, where she was forced to recite the Quran and was given a new name: Fatima. Then on April 30, Pervaiz said she was taken to a court where she was legally married to Imran.
It wasn’t until May 5 that Pervaiz was able to escape from the home with the help of her captor’s daughter.
The whole time she was away, Pervaiz’s mother said that she was left clueless about what was being done to her daughter.
“I was shocked to learn what had happened to my daughter as I was under the impression that she was at her aunty’s house to help her,” Jamila Masih told the website.
What happened to Pervaiz is not uncommon in the South Asian nation, where countless religious minority girls are kidnapped, forcibly converted and forced into marriages with older men.
In 2014, the NGO Movement of Solidarity and Peace estimated that between 100 to 700 Christian girls are abducted, raped and forced into Islamic marriages in Pakistan every year.
Pakistan, a 96 percent Muslim-majority country, ranks as the fifth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA. It was also named last year by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations.
“Forced conversion of Hindu and Christian young women into Islam and marriage, often through bonded labor, remains a systemic problem,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in its 2019 annual report. “Several independent institutions, including the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, recognize that an estimated 1,000 young women are forcibly converted to Islam each year.”
USCIRF noted that Hindu and Christian women are particularly vulnerable because of the “societal marginalization and lack of legal protections for religious minorities, combined with deeply patriarchal societal and cultural norms.”
USCIRF, a congressionally mandated and bipartisan watchdog commission, also criticized the Pakistan government for not adequately prosecuting perpetrators of crimes against religious minorities.
In Pervaiz’s case, police were reportedly reluctant to register the family’s complaint but a case was filed on May 13 with the help of a local pastor.
Pastor Ghazala Shafiq of the Church of Pakistan told ucanews.com that the marriage was illegal because of the fact that Pervaiz is only 15.
“Girls under 18 years of age are considered minor and those doing this are punishable according to Pakistan’s Penal Code. We will fight her case in court,” the pastor was quoted as saying.
Last month, the Lahore High Court ordered the return of a teenage Christian girl who was abducted and forced into an Islamic marriage in March.
“I was violated and abused by my captor but he has not broken my spirit,” Shalet Masih told the British Pakistani Christian Association. “I spoke in court and will testify again and again until the monster is jailed — he should not be allowed to do this to anyone else ever again."
Earlier this month, an Associated Press report revealed that hundreds of Christian girls in Pakistan have been trafficked to China through an operation in which Pakistani pastors are paid to find brides for Chinese men among the impoverished communities they shepherd.
Parents of the sex trafficked girls reportedly receive between $3,500 to $5,000 and are told that their daughters will be married off to wealthy Christian converts.