WINDSOR TERRACE — As the United Nations and various international organizations observe Dec. 10 as the annual day to declare the dignity and human rights of all persons, Pakistan’s religious minorities planned demonstrations against increased abductions and forced conversions and marriages of their women and girls by Muslims.
“Human rights activists, defenders of minority rights, social workers, as well as Church, political, and civil society leaders in Pakistan are inviting all citizens to join this ‘battle of civilization and democracy’ for the country,” Vatican News reported.
A string of unrelated events erupted in Pakistan in the days leading up to the Dec.10 event, including the release of 12-year-old Christian girl Farah Shaheen. Five months before Shaheen’s release on Dec. 6, three Muslim men allegedly kidnapped her from her parent’s house, forcibly converted her to Islam, and then one of the men married her. According to a local report, after her release, police brought Shaheen to a shelter house as her court trial was underway.
According to the faith-based advocacy organization, ADF International, an estimated 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are forcibly married and converted to Islam every year.
“We hope the international community will open its eyes to what is happening in Pakistan and help protect Christians and other minorities who belong to some of the most vulnerable groups in the country,” said ADF International’s Director of Advocacy Tehmina Arora.
The day after Shaheen’s release, 37-year-old journalist Qais Javed, who identified as Methodist Christian, died in a drive-by shooting in the northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan on Dec. 7. Javed became the fourth member of the media killed in the country in the past year.
Javed was the son of a former member of the ruling Pakistan Justice Party. According to the family’s police report, the two were about to enter their house when they came under attack.
According to research by the Library of Congress, nearly 97 percent of all Pakistanis are Muslims, with most of that population identifying as Sunni Muslims. Official documentation states that Christians, Hindus, and members of other religions each account for about 1 percent of the population.
The non-Muslim minorities have limited influence on national policy, having secured representation only in provincial assemblies. In 1992, the Pakistani government allowed religious affiliation to be indicated on personal identification cards needed to complete tasks such as attending school, opening a bank account, casting a vote, or even obtaining a passport. Minority groups organized demonstrations to protest discriminatory policies but were shut down by the government at the time.
Speaking to Vatican News on behalf of the “Black Day” was activist Khalid Shahzad, known for supporting human and minority rights in Lahore, the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab and the country’s second-largest city.
“We encourage all Pakistani citizens to join our call to observe International Human Rights Day as a ‘Black Day,’ especially for our Christian community,” said Shahzad. “We see fundamental rights and freedom trampled every day. Our daughters are kidnapped and forcibly converted, only to be forced to marry their kidnappers, often supported by the police because they are Muslim.”