A surge in under-age Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan being; abducted, raped and forced to marry and convert to Islam has been condemned by one of the country’s leading bishops.
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore confirmed reports of abductions involving girls as young as 14, acts he condemned as “a crime,” in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
His remarks come amid research in Pakistan’s Punjab Province stating that up to 700 girls had been kidnaped in one year.
He said: “Yes, kidnappings of under-age girls are happening” and he added that “there has been much abduction recently”.
“Kidnapping is a crime” Archbishop Shaw added: “It has to be treated as one. This is the only way to stop it. The girls are usually 14, 15. The men often already have one wife. They can be 25 or older. They can be younger, more like 20.”
He supposed there was a religious aspect to the kidnappings, particularly as the girls are Hindu or Christian. However, the archbishop did not believe it was the only clarification.
“It’s lust. They think ‘she is pretty and I want her’. It is a crime. But it has a possible religious component too.”
The archbishop said that in reaction to the increase in kidnappings, Christian leaders took the problem to the police “but they were not listening” so they went straight to the government.
“We raised it with the government and they took up the matter. Along with the Islamic council, they organized a meeting with me and leaders from the Muslim and Hindu communities.”
“I contributed in the meeting, one young Islamic scholar criticised the abductions and said forced conversions are not allowed.”
Despite this, Archbishop Shaw was hopeful about the future of Pakistan, seeing the current government, headed by Prime Minister Imran Khan, as moving in the right way.
He said: “The present governments are working on equality. All people should have a intellect of belonging.”
He was positive about the Church in Pakistan, too. He said: “Nearly 60 percent are young people. We are serving people have a decent education, a quality education, and become professional.
“This is new, particularly for Catholics. We train them for dialogue with Muslims. We teach them the difference between dialogue and debate; we have good catechism and teach them why they are Christian.”
“ACN is helping globaly and whenever we turn to them they are helpful. Financial contributions, prayers and words of encouragement are always appreciated.”
Archbishop Shaw praised ACN’s work in Pakistan, saying: “I am thankful to ACN because ACN is supportive, particularly with pastoral activities.
ACN funded 61 projects in Pakistan in 2018, with the construction of churches, training of religious and the formation of the laity.