Some 1,000 girls are forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan each year, according to a report Monday from the Associated Press (AP).
The forced conversions often take place as a prelude to non-consensual marriages and frequently involve underage girls, AP stated, a practice that has only increased during the long months of coronavirus lockdowns.
“Forced conversions thrive unchecked on a money-making web that involves Islamic clerics who solemnize the marriages, magistrates who legalize the unions and corrupt local police who aid the culprits by refusing to investigate or sabotaging investigations,” AP declared, citing child protection activists.
These conversions and forced marriages are often sanctioned by state authorities, making it particularly difficult to help the victims.
As Breitbart News reported, during the coronavirus lockdown last April, a Muslim man called Mohamad Nakash kidnapped a 14-year-old Christian girl named Maira Shahbaz at gunpoint, gang-raped her with two other accomplices, blackmailed her, and forced her to convert to Islam.
In August, a Pakistani court ruled that Maira had “voluntarily” converted to Islam and therefore is legally married to Mr. Nakash.
Two weeks after the court ruling, Maira escaped from Nakash’s house and informed police of the ongoing abuse she had suffered at his hands. In response, Nakash made death threats against her, accusing her of apostasy, as well as threatening to release videotape of her being gang raped.
In Pakistan, marrying girls under the age of 16 is technically illegal, but activists insist that the Child Marriage Restraint Act is not seriously enforced and Islamic sharia often prevails instead, which allows girls to be married off once they experience their first menstrual cycle.
The United Nations rates Pakistan as one of the worst countries in the world for child brides, with some 3 percent of girls wedded before the age of 15.
In its recent designation of Pakistan as “a country of particular concern” for violations of religious freedoms, the U.S. State Department cited an assessment by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that underage girls in the minority Hindu, Christian, and Sikh communities were “kidnapped for forced conversion to Islam… forcibly married and subjected to rape.”
In its report, AP said that the girls are often abducted by complicit acquaintances and relatives or “men looking for brides.”
According to one activist, the underage marriage market targets on non-Muslim girls because they are the most vulnerable and the easiest targets.