THIS IS THE STORY of Samra Munir (13) and Neha Pervaiz (14). Both Catholic girls were kidnapped from their homes by Muslims. Samra was forced to marry and convert to Islam; her family has not seen her since her abduction. Nehah was more fortunate and got away from her captor, though she suffered sexual assault. These are but two examples of kidnapping of under-age Christian girls in Pakistan and the practice of forced marriage and conversion to Islam. The number of such incidents is sharply on the rise.
Samra loves her family and understands that she must help them; she enjoys cooking and assisting with household chores. She has only completed three years of primary school; the family lives on daily wages and her parents cannot afford school fees.
On September 16, 2019, Samra was home alone. Her parents were at work and her siblings were at the market. It was then that she was kidnapped; she was forcibly thrown into a car and taken away. Samra’s brother Shahzad saw the car drive away. He ran after it but could not keep up. Samra’s parents repeatedly reported the kidnapping, but local police insisted that she was not taken. Police said she ran away from home. Her parents were told not to create a scene.
Some time passed before the family received any news. The learned that Samra had married and converted to Islam. Her marriage certificate listed her age as 19. The police ordered her parents not to come again and they were threatened that their other daughter, Arooj, would suffer a similar fate.
Still, the family persisted. They took out a 40,000 rupee loan (about $260) so they’d have money to give to officers each time they went to the police station, in the hope that the money would prompt the police to act; they sold their sewing machine and phones, too. Every dollar they made went toward the search for Samra, but nothing has come of their efforts so far.
Arooj said: “My life is not easy. We miss Samra; we don’t eat or sleep properly. I don’t go to school because we can’t afford the fees. Still, I know that God hasn’t forsaken us. Jesus is with me. I carry a rosary with me at all times, and I pray that Mother Mary continues to protect us.
This area isn’t safe for us. My Muslim friends treat me well, but their mothers don’t like me. They think that I’m impure; I can only use certain plates and glasses. I love my country, but I want to live where we are all respected. I humbly ask that world leaders work on behalf of our safety and peace. People forget to be kind.”
Neha Pervaiz told Aid to the Church in Need her own story:
“I am, in many ways, a normal girl. I love to draw, sketch, and race; I love to play with my best friend Madiha and my three younger siblings. But I am also Christian, and I have suffered greatly for it.
“My aunt, whose children I’ve cared for and bathed, allowed my rape and abduction. While in her home, my brother and I were locked in separate rooms and beaten. A man named Imran raped me and forced me to recite the Koran; I initially refused, but they beat my brother harder because of it. I relented to keep him safe.
”Then, for seven days, I was held captive in Imran’s home, until one of his daughters spared me. One of my aunt’s children took me in and managed to keep me hidden. She lent me a burka and 500 rupees (about $3.50) so I could safely return to my family. But my parents did not believe me when I told them what had happened.
“I now live in a parish compound. But I am not safe. I cannot go anywhere alone, for I might be attacked again, and I cannot worship freely. I have no security or legal protection. Still, I do not want to leave my country. This is my home. I want to study law so I can protect other girls from similar crimes. I also hope that world leaders support legislation that ensures the safety of women and prevents forced conversion and marriage.
“God protected me and I escaped. I proudly carry the cross wherever I go.”
Tabassum Yousaf writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)
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