01 November 2010
The Tragedy of Forced Marriages and Conversion of Christian girls to Islam
Shah Taj, a fourteen-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan, was on her way to school last year when a vehicle occupied by three men pulled up beside her, grabbed her, threw her in the car and sped off. As frightening as this may seem, her ordeal had just begun. She described what happened: “I was standing at the bus stop. Three Muslims came up to me in a car. They were armed with weapons. They pushed me into the car and took me to a hotel. While there, one of them raped me. Afterwards, at gunpoint they took my thumb impression and my signature, placing them on blank papers.”
“I tried to make noise; but they pointed their guns at me and threatened to kill my father and my brother if I make a noise.” Taj was forced to marry a Muslim man and convert to Islam. They had used her signature and thumbprint to create a document saying she had converted to Islam. Like Shah Taj, Christian girls throughout the Islamic world are being abducted and trafficked for commercial sex and coerced into domestic servitude. Muslim men are offered financial incentives to marry Christian girls - an incentive designed by fundamentalists to convert girls to Islam forcefully.
Recent investigations have revealed information exposing the criminal phenomenon of forced Islamization of Christian girls which occurs on an alarming scale. On April 16, 2010, eighteen members of the United States Congress wrote to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office, concerning continued “reports of abductions, forced marriages, and exploitation of Coptic women and girls in Egypt.” The Egyptian government and state security have routinely denied the problem’s existence, refusing to sanction cases that have been commissioned to court.
International Christian Concern (ICC) recently visited Egypt to investigate. Meeting with human rights lawyers and activists who have defended Egypt’s Christian minority, they obtained names, birth certificates, and conducted personal interviews with the parents of victimized Christian girls. Source after source exposed astonishingly similar cases. Forced marriages are systematically orchestrated. What appears to a girl to be a natural and inconsequential friendship with a young man may on the contrary be a deceptive plot to lure the girl into a forced marriage.
A Muslim man or his accomplice exploits the girl’s trust by convincing her of the man’s friendship. “They are planning and organizing a plot to fool this person. it may seem like friendship or falling in love, but in actuality, it is a planned seduction,” Bishop Thomas of the El-Quosia Diocese in Upper Egypt told ICC. Most forced marriages are accompanied by physical abuse and sexual violence. Once the paperwork is finalized, it is as if the Christian girl never existed.
The town she grew up in, the names of her parents, and the date she was born become mere memories, known only by those closest to her. All documents revealing the girl’s childhood or family history are burned or tucked away in bureaucratic files where there is no likelihood the girl’s whereabouts will ever be discovered. She becomes a ghost, with no past, but only an uncertain future, but only an uncertain future which will likely be lived-out as a resented wife to a detached husband.
The girl is then kept captive in her husband’s home. The Muslim husband may take a second, third or fourth wife, using the “Christian” girl as nothing more than a servant. If the girl is bold and fortunate, she may escape. However, according to a report by Christian Solidarity International, girls who are able to escape “usually remain so heavily burdened with social and legal problems that anything like a normal life is impossible. While they may be successful in obtaining a divorce from their Muslim husband, they are rarely able to obtain a reversal of their religious status.”
In Cairo, Mamdouh Nakhla, a Coptic lawyer and the Chairman of the Al-Kalema Organization of Human Rights, said he has reported hundreds of cases of abduction to the police, and their response is always the same. “The police say the girl is happy with her marriage and happy to be a Muslim and they demand that I stop looking for her. The police know where she is, but they choose not to tell me. There is an ‘unsaid contract’ between the police and the kidnappers.”
Mr. Nakhla then takes the case to the District Attorney, who orders the man and the girl to appear in court. The man appears alone, having prevented the girl from attending the hearing. Before the judge, the man either denies the accusations, or professes that the girl willingly chose to marry him and is happy in her present circumstance. The District Attorney then refers back to the police to verify the man’s statement. The police, honouring their agreement with the man, return with a positive report confirming the kidnapper’s testimony. With that, the District Attorney closes the case.
According to Mr. Nakhla, since January 2006, there have been more than 2,000 cases of girls who have appealed to return to Christianity, but have been denied their right to testify in court. Human Rights Watch reported, “The abducted girls typically face no difficulties converting to Islam and acquiring identity documents recognizing their conversions, but those who subsequently wish to return to Christianity meet with refusal and harassment from the Civil Status Department (CSD) of the Ministry of Interior.”
Regrettably, the three men who abducted Shah Taj will likely never be punished for their crime. “I hate what has happened to me,” explained Taj. “They kidnapped me and raped me, that’s why they must go to prison and be punished.” Yet, Christians throughout the Islamic world are unable to justly punish those who have violated their daughters by deliberate assaults of planned seductions and kidnappings. Wagih Yacoub, a Coptic human rights activist, told ICC that in Egypt, the rights of Christians are not equal to those of Muslims.
“The only way to protect yourself and protect your people is by the law; but if the law is not on your side, then you have no assurance of protection. We are the minority in this country. The Muslims have the support of the Egyptian government, their religion and the police security. The Christians cannot stand against an entire government.” In Egypt, Christians makeup roughly ten percent of the population, yet they remain a marginalized religious minority on account of being governed by Islamic Shariah law, a principle source of Egypt’s legislation.
Even though it is stated in the Egyptian Constitution that, “The State shall guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites, in practice, it severely violates religious freedom. As of 2008, Christians held less than two percent of seats in Egypt’s People’s Assembly and Shura Council. With little political power, the Christian community is left vulnerable to discrimination and oppression, incapable of defending themselves against even the most apparent and fundamental human rights abuses.
Source: Intercessors Network