Pakistan Christian Children “Forced” To Marry and Convert amid Widespread Attacks
Monday, 27 August 2007
By BosNewsLife News Center
Pakistani Christians often worship under tight security. Via CSMonitor.com
A marriage certificate for 16-year-old Shamaila Tabassum indicates that the marriage took place 12 days before her disappearance, earlier this month, said Compass Direct News, a Christian news agency investigating reports of persecution.
The news agency cited another certificate which puts the age of 11-year-old Zunaira Rasheed at 18. Police have been allegedly stalling efforts to recover the minors, prompting the girls’ lawyer to bring a case against officers in the Punjab city of Faisalabad last week.
Tabassum allegedly disappeared after telling relatives she was on her way to the hospital with several Muslim neighbors to visit her father, whom she said had suffered a serious accident, Compass Direct News said. The Christian girl’s family apparently became worried about her absence after her father arrived home from work in perfect health.
News of the disappearance came shortly after several Christian lawyers joined the legal branch of advocacy group All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), aimed at providing free legal assistance to minority people in the country amid growing concerns about kidnappings of Christians and attacks against churches.
In addition, Christians and Hindus in northern Pakistan have reportedly received dozens of letters threatening them with death if they do not convert to Islam.
The letters were also sent to seven churches and five Christian settlements in Peshawar, the provincial capital of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, Catholic Church sources said.
Peshawar Catholic priest Yousaf Amanat said in published remarks that he had received a letter by mail telling him to convert to Islam by Tuesday August 14. “I was away from the parish, and when I came on Monday evening the post was on my desk,” Amanat said. “It was written that if we don’t become Muslim we will be killed.”
Christians in the region were earlier threatened with an August 10 deadline for conversion. There have been some positive developments, rights group say, including the recent apology by Muslims for attacking a church in Pakistan’s Punjab
region in June.
In addition to wounding seven Christians and destroying books at the Salvation Army church in Chak 248, a village 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of Faisalabad, Pakistan’s third largest city, the perpetrators reportedly admitted that a Muslim resident had planned to burn a page of the Quran – punishable with life imprisonment under Pakistani law – and blame the Christian community.
“We are sorry and promise that this will not happen in the future,” Faizur Rehman, one of 41 Muslims originally accused with attacking the church on June 17, was quoted as saying in a notarized affidavit. “The Christian people have forgiven them,” lawyer Khalil Tahir Sindhu, legal representative for the Christian community, told Compass Direct News. He was quoted as saying that both parties had dropped court cases in which they accused each other of instigating violence, though he admitted he was not in favor of the out-of-court settlement. “This is called impunity,” he said.
APMA, which has been closely monitoring this and other attacks against Christians, said it was encouraged however that representatives of different religions seem to share its concerns. It said that over 100,000 people from all parts of the country attended its “National Solidarity Rally” on August 11, Pakistan’s Independence Day, held at the Minar-e-Pakistan, a tall concrete unique minaret in the city of Lahore.
The rally was “aimed at projecting the vision of the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah” who wanted to make Pakistan a “modern democratic country where people of all faiths will be treated equally without any bias to religion, caste and creed,” APMA told BosNewsLife. There have been concerns about Muslim extremism in Pakistan and growing influence of the Taliban movement in the region. (With reporting from Pakistan)