LAHORE, Pakistan—Cecilia Masih wished she had not stepped out of her house that morning. A 15-year-old Christian, Masih was kidnapped, raped,
and forcibly converted to Islam. It changed her life in ways she cannot even comprehend at her age.
Masih, a resident of Pakistan’s Faisalabad
city, was visiting her aunt, Jameela, who lives in the same town. She discovered that her aunt was not home and decided to wait outside the house for her to return.
That was when Jameela’s neighbour, Rukhsana, a woman in her late 40s, spotted Masih
and asked her to come over. She told Masih that she could spend time at her place instead of waiting for her aunt, outside.
Masih did not hesitate
as Rukhsana was a familiar face.
“I went to her place where she drugged my tea,” Masih told VICE World News. “Next, I found
myself locked in a small room.”
She was now with a 27-year-old Muslim man Zafar Iqbal. Within hours of drugging Masih, Rukhsana had sold
her to Iqbal for PKR 50,000 ($314).
“When I insisted on being released, he [Iqbal] said that he bought me from Rukhsana to convert me,”
Forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages are among many methods to persecute religious minorities in Pakistan. The four
percent of the population that already faces state-sponsored discrimination in the form of its stringent blasphemy laws, is also on the receiving end of the escalating conversions.
Masih was held captive for three months. “They took me to a mosque where a cleric forced me to recite the kalima (Islamic verse). At gunpoint, I was forced to sign a nikahnama (marriage certificate) and an affidavit of
consent to marriage. In the document, they changed my age to 18,” recalled Masih.
Her abductor gave her a new name, Aisha.
In April last year, local state police arrested the cleric who had facilitated the “marriage” and were able to trace Masih.
During the court hearing, Masih’s abductor and “husband”, Iqbal, produced forged documents to claim that she was an adult. The girl’s father produced her birth certificate
and church records to establish that she was 14.
Masih’s parents got her custody back. The conversion and marriage were
However, the case against her abductor is still going on in court. “Iqbal was arrested but was released on bail,” Masih’s
mother, Naseem, told vice world news. “We haven’t sought justice for our daughter as we can’t afford to hire a lawyer.”
who sold Masih, was questioned by the authorities but no formal charges were pressed against her.
Every year, roughly a thousand girls from minority communities are abducted and converted in Pakistan, according to the NGO Aurat foundation. Local human rights workers say that the number of unreported cases
is much higher.
Once kidnapped, most of the girls don’t return home and are not allowed to keep any contact with their families.
In conversion cases, there is a clear pattern of abductors coercing the girls to give false testimonies in court. The “marriage certificates”
and affidavits are fudged to change age, and juvenile girls remain in captivity as “brides”.