Please Don’t Forget About Pakistan’s “Missing Girls” Too

Recent news headlines have rightly been focused on the barbaric kidnapping of more than 200 high school girls in Nigeria. Human rights activists, women’s rights groups, celebrities, and politicians alike have all spoken out forcefully and unequivocally against the savagery of Boko Haram, the al-Qaeda inspired terrorist group responsible for the abductions.  The collective outrage against Boko Haram’s heinous acts has even inspired a global #BringBackOurGirls campaign and has led to the deployment of American and British military advisors in Nigeria to assist in the search operation for the girls.

Strikingly, such campaigns and voices have largely been absent from the public discourse surrounding a similar phenomenon that has been taking place in Pakistan for a number of years now.

While the scourge of sexual violence, honor killings, and the Taliban’s merciless attacks on girls like Malala Yousafzai are all too familiar to international observers of Pakistan, little is known about the pernicious practice of abducting and forcibly converting non-Muslim girls to Islam.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) has been one of the few organizations comprehensively documenting these occurrences over the past several years in its annual human rights report. The Foundation’s latest report, entitled Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights 2013, points to an alarming trend of an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam every year, with approximately 2,000 abducted in 2011 alone.  These girls are subsequently married off to Muslim men, often two to three times their age, or sold into sexual slavery.

Although it is the same odious and radical ideology motivating the actions of religious extremists in both Nigeria and Pakistan, there is an important distinction.  In contrast to the seemingly spontaneous nature of Boko Haram’s kidnappings in Nigeria, the pattern in Pakistan is highly sophisticated, organized, and systematic, and in many cases, abetted by the state.  Furthermore, in Pakistan, these incidents occur steadily and consistently month after month.

In the southern province of Sindh, for example, where the majority of the country’s dwindling Hindu population resides (Hindus officially comprise less than 2% of the total population, down from 15% in 1947), approximately 20-25 Hindu girls are abducted and forcibly converted every month.

A disproportionate number of the victims are mere children, some as young as six years old, such as Jumna, who was kidnapped along with her ten year-old sister, Pooja, while selling clay toys and utensils door to door in Mirpurkhas, Sindh.  After their abductions, the girls were taken to a mosque and converted to Islam, and then forced to live with a Muslim man, Rajab Pathan.  Fortunately, the girls were recovered from Pathan’s home and Jumna has been reunited with her family, although Pooja still remains separated from them while a court inexplicably deliberates her fate.

As the uncle of another kidnapping victim so aptly stated, “What do children as young as Jumna and Pooja know about Islam and their own religion for that matter that they’d want to convert? This is the height of injustice.”

In a recent Deutsche Welle article, Pakistani human rights activist, Ramesh Jaipal, described the role of mosques and seminaries in perpetuating these practices as follows, “Hindu girls are converted under the patronage of religious outfits.  All the abducted girls from Sindh are brought to Bhurchandi Sharif shrine [a Sufi Muslim shrine] which provides legal aid and protection to the kidnapper and plays a key role in the conversion and marriage of under age girls.”

Mosques and seminaries, however, cannot successfully churn out converted Hindu and Christian girls like a well oiled machine without the connivance of state institutions, including the police and the judicial system.

Rather than assist desperate Hindu and Christian parents recover their stolen daughters, the police actively deter them from filing criminal complaints, often colluding with the abductors to threaten and intimidate the victim’s family into silence.

And in the event that a police investigation is initiated or a case makes it to court, conversion and marriage certificates issued by a mosque are accepted without question, thereby disregarding the girl’s age, the involuntary nature of the conversion, and other extenuating circumstances.  To make matters worse, during pending trials, parents are frequently prevented from seeing their daughters, while the abductors and their heavily armed supporters are given unfettered access to the victims.

As a result, unlike Jumna, the vast majority of kidnapped girls in Pakistan never make it back home. In fact, most are never seen or heard from by their families again.

So as the international campaign to bring back Nigeria’s kidnapped girls continues, let’s not forget about the thousands of “Missing Girls” in Pakistan too.  #BringBackOurGirls

  • Venu Menon

    Thank you for writing this excellent commentary. The sad truth is that there is a dichotomy in the treatment of Hindus in media compared to almost anyone else. Hindus are either considered as sub-human or worse, just plain ignored. Would love to hear thoughts on how the community can build up a voice in the media quicker. The HAF does some but in 10+ years of existence it has, with all due respect, done very little to improve that.

    • Iamnothing

      Don’t act Borderline in front of media outlets while protesting mistreatment and write articles with text from this site to detractors of Hinduism in the media like Yasha Levine, Wendy Doniger, etc.

      Also, try to get editing rights on Wikipedia articles. Write to Harvard and other places and try to work your way into school textbooks. Also tell people you don’t have to be Hindu to do things like Yoga and Meditation for spiritual benefit. Make links with people in India.

  • An other 15 year old Hindu Girl student of 9th Class, Roshni Devi was kidnapped, Convert in to Islam and forcefully marry with Muslim boy on 1st June.

  • Guest

    Yesterday : an other 14 years Old Dalit Girl Raped in Tando Allahyar Sindh Pakistan

    Haey Ry Bhagwaan

  • Khan

    Force conversion is totally unacceptable. The problem is the cultural exposure of a dominant society. Hindu religion (please excuse me) is not properly displayed to the world in modern think patterns. I live in Canada and know the Hindu youth are very confused of the story of their religion. I will request the Hindu intellectuals to write books for Hindus in non-Hindu environments. They are getting big exposure of other religions like Islam and Christianity. The very complicated Hindu philosophy does not stand strong against very straight forward and simplistic religions. One more thing the ideological religious difference should not be mixed with India-Pakistan conflict.

    • Padma

      Khan, thank you for your comment. I agree – forced or coercive conversion is wrong, and religious differences should not make people or countries fight. I try to write about Hinduism at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/seekingshanti/