A minor girl, between 15 to 17 years of age, donning a hijab, her eyes well up with tears as she speaks. Her lips are barely moving as she scrambles for words. Addressing her family via the video, she informs them about her marriage and embracing Islam, and then pleads with them to accept her decision. Finally, she warns them of dire consequences in case any attempt is made to chase her:
“I have come here out of choice, nobody has forced me. I have gotten married and I am a Muslim now. I would request my family members not to follow me, otherwise, I will kill myself.”
This statement comes from a Christian minor who was abducted, forcefully converted to Islam, and then married off to the abductor. The story of Mehak is one among many of these horrific tales of forced abduction and conversion that are visited upon minority communities in Pakistan. Her tragic saga epitomizes the tormented and traumatic nature of what comes to characterize the afterlives of the victims of such crimes. Kidnapped from Faisalabad by Shahid Ali, she was held in captivity for three months, then abused and raped for days on end, until she got pregnant.
Sitting next to her mother, seeming quite ill at ease, Mehak, with her brooding downcast eyes, begins to recount her story, she mumbles, perhaps at loss for words to narrate that unspeakable trauma, and she starts over again.
On that fateful day when she was taken away from her home, Mehak’s mother, Saima, who is a teacher at a local school, had gone to work, leaving her daughter alone. It was around 12:30 pm when her alleged kidnapper barged into their house and held up Mehak. She had a gun held to her head, was kidnapped, and taken away to an unknown location.
Mehak’s abductor is still at large. The family has been reluctant to approach the police ever since they were threatened with dire consequences of informing law enforcement agencies. Although Mehak returned home afterward, time and again the kidnapper reminds the family that he still wants to be with her and makes threats of killing her and her family.
Months after the incident took place, the family is constantly living in fear of that dreadful event and are scared for their lives, Mehak’s siblings have now left their schools to avoid another mishap.
Mehak’s story is not an isolated event but a testament to and reflective of the larger trend of forced abduction of conversion of underage girls from a minority community. Observers have noted that it has amplified further recently, with an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls between 12 and 25 years of age meeting this fate each year.
“One day, my husband and I went outside. In order to scare my daughter, the accused fired shots at us. I was injured and still have five bullets in my leg.” – Saima (Mehak’s Mother)
This practice of forced conversion constitutes a critical human rights issue in Pakistan. The blatant threat towards minorities is as clear as the day, however, the delayed response by the state has added to the tensions of these people and has only aggravated these attacks.
In the face of potential opposition from religious clergy, for example, the government has consistently failed to introduce requisite legislative and policy reforms to protect its minorities – as exemplified by its failure to develop consensus over passing anti-forced conversion legislation or to implement already existing laws related to child marriages. It is this critical gap and weakness in the institutional system that provides opportunities to perpetrators like Shahid Ali. And thus, it is that the perpetrators roam freely with impunity and law-enforcement agencies fail miserably every time such a case happens; while the victims of such crimes and their families continue to suffer and go through all kinds of sufferings – from societal shame to bouts of emotional breakdown and flashbacks that make them relive their trauma now and than – long after such an incident takes place.
 All-Party Parliamentary Group for Pakistani Minorities (APPGPM). (2021, November 26). Abductions, Forced Conversions, and Forced Marriages of Religious Minority Women and Girls in Pakistan. Available at, https://appgfreedomofreligionorbelief.org/media/APPG-Pakistan-Minorities-Report.pdf