The issue of kidnappings and forced conversions of minors belonging to the Christian community and other religious minorities in Pakistan is a serious problem that the world cannot ignore, insists Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore.
For this prelate, it is not just a religious matter, but a question of human rights. He denounced the cases that affect so many families in Pakistan.
“We have a duty to speak about what is happening, to prevent these cases,” said the archbishop, adding that “the cases of kidnappings, sexual assault, and forced conversion and marriage are a problem in Pakistani society that the government is trying to control.”
Contrary to what one might think, this issue does not only affect girls. “Sometimes boys are also kidnapped, sexually abused and often killed,” Archbishop Shaw explained.
“Just imagine the situation of these parents, who prepare their children’s schoolbags, send them off to class, and then never see them again because they were kidnapped. Sometimes their bodies are found, and they can hold the funerals, and mourn. But in other cases, all that the parents can do is cry over the disappearance of their children.”
The kidnapping of minors was analyzed in a research paper produced by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), titled “Hear Her Cries.” Pakistan is one of the countries where the problem is most severe, along with Mozambique, Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria.
The archbishop thanked ACN for all the support it has provided not only to his diocese, but to the whole Church in Pakistan, and asked for more help in raising awareness of these cases which affect many hundreds of people every year.
Through his testimony, Archbishop Shaw hopes to make more people aware of a reality so often ignored by the world, but which is truly dramatic for many families in these countries. “These children are not even free to play in the garden. We have a duty to speak about what is happening, to prevent these cases,” he said.
According to the latest Religious Freedom in the World Report, published by ACN in April 2021, “the problem of abducted Christian and Hindu girls got worse” over the past years.
“Asad Iqbal Butt, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, noted that the number of victims had doubled since 2018, to 2,000 per year. Kidnappers, often with the complicity of corrupt police officers and court officials, claim that the girls are over 18 and marry of their own free will,” according to the report.
The situation is serious, and, according to ACN’s report, “pleas by parents with identity papers showing the true age of the girls have failed far too often to stop forced marriages and conversions.”
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw says that in his diocese many of these issues have been addressed through the work of an inter-religious group. “For us it is very important to try and solve these social problems. There are misunderstandings that can be overcome through dialogue,” he explained. – Paulo Aido
Reprinted with permission from Aid to the Church in Need USA.