Women are often targeted in discrimination against Christian minorities, said an official of the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during the commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Wednesday, November 23.
“If believing in Jesus Christ presents a serious threat in many parts of the world, being a female Christian is even more difficult,” said Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN executive president, in a statement.
“In many countries where religious persecution is still rife, violence against women is often used as a weapon of discrimination,” added Heine-Geldern.
He said “numerous cases of Christian women and girls being kidnapped and forced to convert and marry men of other religions” have been reported in recent months.
Michelle Clark, an academic who studied the attacks on women, said the attacks are part of a larger trend.
“Attacks against Christian women have increased in number, and yes, it has something to do with religion,” she said.
Clark said there is evidence that the attacks are “planned down to the last detail.” More cases are being reported. But many cases are left unreported,” she said.
Clark is one of the experts who collaborated with ACN on the “Hear her cries” report on “the kidnapping, forced conversion and sexual victimization of Christian women and girls.”
She said the “targeted violence … does more than tear families apart.”
“Violence against Christian women is a weapon being used to wage war against religious minorities,” she said.
“If a Christian is forced to convert or is forcibly married to a Muslim, it is impossible for her to return to her Christian faith, even if she can free herself or is released from the marriage,” Clark explained.
“Mothers and their children are a growing target group. You are not only removing a single person from the group of Christians, but a mother and her progeny,” she added.
ACN has supported partners on the ground to increase protection for Christian women in countries such as Pakistan, where the number of forced conversion and marriages, including Hindus and Sikhs, was 78 in 2021, with 38 cases involving Christians, according to the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice.
By some estimates, the number is much higher, with some suggesting that as many as 1000 cases occur every year.
In some cases, legislation has been passed that ensures protection on paper, but this often does not change reality on the ground, said ACN.
In Pakistan, for instance, underage marriage is illegal, yet several lower courts have recognized forced marriages of underage girls.
“The surrounding pressure in courts from extremist groups, the biased attitude of police, the fear of harm from the abductor, and associated stigma force the victim to often give a statement in favor of her abductor,” said Father Emmanuel Yousaf of Pakistan’s National Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. – with a report from ACN