The family of a 12-year-old girl in Pakistan who was forced to marry her abductor condemned authorities for releasing the 29-year-old perpetrator who kept the girl chained in a cattle pen for six months.
The case is among other reported forced conversions of religious minority women and girls in the country in recent months.
The child was taken from her home in Faisalabad last June and had been held at the home of her abductor and was made to work clearing animal dung.
Police earlier arrested the abductor identified as Khizer Hayat but then released him, saying there was no evidence the girl had not consented to the marriage.
A report in The Guardian newspaper said the father of the girl discovered his daughter at Hayat’s house in Hafizabad, 110 km from her home.
“They repeatedly raped my daughter. She was in trauma after being subjected to physical and mental torture. They had forcibly converted her to Islam,” said the father who asked not to be named.
He said the police did not even register his complaint and even threatened him.- Newsletter -Subscribe to Spotlight, our daily newsletter.
According to a 2019 report by the human rights commission of Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are abducted and forcibly married every year.
Many of the victims are minors. Sexual assaults and fraudulent marriages are used by perpetrators to entrap victims, and authorities rarely intervene.
Pakistan’s tiny Christian population of about 2.5 million in the Muslim majority country of 223 million faces frequent discrimination.
In 2020 a 14-year-old Catholic girl from Faisalabad was kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to “marry” her 45-year-old kidnapper. She managed to escape and is in hiding with her parents after a court ruled she must return to her abductor.
In December, Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan ordered an inquiry into the forced conversions of religious minority women and girls.
“We are aware of the incident and the state of Pakistan is fully committed to ensure justice to minorities whether it’s forced marriage or forced conversion,” said Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Khan’s special representative for religious harmony.
Open Doors International, a Christian human rights organization, noted in a recent report that Christians in Pakistan face extreme persecution in every area of their lives, with believers who have converted from Islam facing the greatest levels of persecution, but with all Christians being considered second-class citizens.