A Muslim couple in Pakistan’s Punjab province forcibly converted a 13-year-old Christian girl to Islam so that she could work as a cook in their kitchen and touch utensils and food items. Now they are refusing to allow her to return home to her parents unless they pay a ransom, according to a report.
The Muslim man, identified only as a medical doctor named Altaf, recently told the parents of Neha, the Christian teenager, that she had embraced Islam and he and his wife were keeping her as their servant, the U.K.-based nonprofit Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement said in a statement Thursday about the abduction.
Neha’s father, Munawar Masih, and his wife, Mehtan Bibi, who live in Muzaffargarh district, are economically poor and had hoped that their daughter would earn a little money by working in Altaf’s house.
The young Christian teen has seven siblings and their parents earn only about $50 a month.
Altaf was introduced to Masih as someone who was looking to employ two girls to work in his house. Initially, Masih sent Neha and her sister, Sneha, to work in Altaf’s house, and the two worked there for four years despite being treated as slaves, CLAAS said.
The sisters “complained about mistreatment by the family, who would swear at them and even physically assault them. … They told the family that they wanted to go back home and live with their family, but Dr. Altaf did not allow them to leave.”
The girls were promised $65 a month but were only paid $20.
Due to her deteriorating health, Altaf allowed Neha’s sister to return to her parents. But when Masih requested Altaf to return also, he was told that Neha had embraced Islam and therefore could not live with her parents any longer.
Altaf told Masih that it was not possible for them to allow any non-Muslim to enter the kitchen and touch their food items and kitchen utensils so she had to convert.
He also claimed that he had mistakenly overpaid Masih $1,750 and told him he must pay him that amount if he wants to get his daughter back.
“Perhaps Pakistan is the only country where such crimes are happening on a daily basis under the cover of Islam,” CLAAS-UK Director Nasir Saeed said. “It cannot be justified at any cost that a young girl was converted to Islam against her will and without her parents’ knowledge and now she cannot be returned to her parents because her parents are Christians, and she cannot be allowed to live them.”
A 2014 study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan estimated that about 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian communities were abducted, forcibly married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.
International persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA ranks Pakistan No. 5 on its 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution due to an “extreme” level of Islamic oppression. Pakistan is also listed by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for tolerating in or engaging in egregious violations of religious freedom.