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Sexual violence and forced conversion of women – (ii) Egypt and Pakistan
By Marta Petrosillo

The abduction and forced conversion of women from religious minorities – frequently accompanied by rape and other sexual violence – is a major problem in a number of countries of particular concern as regards human rights violations, especially Pakistan and Egypt. These abductions do not follow a set pattern. Some are opportunistic, while others are carried out by organised groups. A significant proportion are not necessarily motivated exclusively by religious faith but a combination of factors, including, in some cases, financial incentives.

Local NGOs in Pakistan estimated that at least 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and marry their attacker every year. In Egypt at least 550 Christian women aged 14 to 40 disappeared between 2011 and 2014 [6]  – and girls are still abducted regularly.

Pakistan

According to the Human Rights Council of Pakistan and the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan, the abductions of women are on the rise. Often, authorities tell parents the girl has converted and married of her own free will. Many families don’t report the crime, or withdraw the case, following threats against other female members of the family.

In late December 2017, three gunmen abducted a 14-year-old Hindu girl from her home in Thar village, Sindh province. Her father was told that his daughter had freely converted to Islam and married local man Naseer Lunjo – the family insists she was pressured.[7]

Such abductions are part of a wider pattern of sexual violence against religious-minority women: more powerless before courts than Muslim women, they are a soft target as rapists know prosecution is unlikely. If a woman cannot prove sex happened against her will, she can be accused of adultery and face arrest, flogging or even stoning to death.[8] For this reason, many women are frightened to report sexual violence committed against them or their loved ones.

Egypt

Abductions and forced marriages of Coptic Christian women have been happening since the 1970s and every month cases are still reported – at least seven were abducted in April 2018.[9] In September 2017, a man who previously worked for a kidnapping network revealed that they receive c. €2,500 (US$3,000) from extremist organisations for each girl.[10]

When families go to the police to report that their daughters or wives are missing they often meet resistance. Police can refuse to help, sometimes telling families that the kidnapped woman left and converted of her own free will – as in the April 2018 case of Christine Lamie.

Sources

[6] Figures from Foundation of the Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (FVAFD).

[7] “Teenage Hindu girl abducted, forcibly converted in Pakistan: Report”, Indian Express, 21st December 2017, http://indianexpress.com/article/pakistan/teenage-hindu-girl-abducted-forcibly-converted-in-pakistan-report-4993480/ (accessed 4th June 2018).

[8] See “Pakistan village ‘court’ sentences woman to death for adultery for saying she was raped”, Independent, Tuesday 30th  May 2017,  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/pakistan-village-court-sentence-woman-death-adultery-rape-punjab-sexual-assault-rajanpur-a7762801.html (accessed 4th June 2018).

[9] “Egypt’s disappearing Coptic women and girls”, World Watch Monitor, 1st May 2018

https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2018/05/egypts-disappearing-coptic-women-and-girls/ (accessed 4th June 2018).

[10] “Egypt: ex-kidnapper admits ‘they get paid for every Coptic Christian girl they bring in’”, World Watch Monitor, 1st May 2018 <https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2017/09/egypt-ex-kidnapper-admits-get-paid-every-copt-christian-girl-bring/> (accessed 4th June 2018).

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