Rape of Christian Girl in Pakistan Ignored by Police

Sunday, August 11, 2002

The rape of a 16-year-old girl in Pakistan has been ignored by police because of her religious beliefs.

Shakeela Siddique, a Christian from Fatewala village in the northeastern Gujranwala district, was reportedly raped by an influential local Muslim landlord in February 2002.

Traumatised and ashamed, Shakeela kept quiet about her ordeal. The incident only came to light two months later when she realised she was pregnant.

In order to avoid social stigma, she was forced to have an abortion (illegal in Pakistan) at the end of April and has suffered from severe depression since the attack.

When her father, Siddique Masih, attempted to confront the alleged rapist, he was badly beaten up.

He told Christian Liberation Front, a Pakistani human rights group: "My everything has been ruined as my daughter is now a living corpse. No Christian in our village dares to raise his voice against the Muslim landlords."

There are about 150 Muslim families and 50 Christian families living in Fatewala and most of the Christians are poor peasants employed by Muslims.

In February 2001, Naira Nadia, a 14-year-old Christian girl, was kidnapped and gang raped by a group of Muslim men.

This was apparently a reprisal for sharing her faith with her school friends. The group forcibly converted her to Islam and sent her parents a certificate of conversion. Despite evidence that Naira was underage and therefore could not marry or convert to another faith without her parents' consent, the presiding judge at Lahore High Court ruled in favour of the abductor.

Naira has been missing for almost 17 months. Her family filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in February this year, but they are under increasing pressure from local Muslims to drop the case.

In May 2000, eight Christian girls were allegedly gang raped by six Muslims. Their case went before the Ferozwala District and Sessions Court in May 2002 and the judge ruled against the girls. It is widely believed that he did so because of pressure from extremists who packed the courtroom at every stage of the proceedings.

Minority women who are rape victims are often forcibly converted to Islam and married to their rapists or sold into prostitution. According to a ruling of the Lahore High Court, if a non-Muslim married woman converts to Islam, her marriage is automatically dissolved. In some cases, the rape, conversion, marriage and even subsequent divorce can take place in a single evening.

In Pakistan, women who have been raped are at risk of being accused of committing adultery, the penalty for which is death by stoning. To successfully defend a charge of adultery, the burden falls on the victim to prove rape, requiring four adult Muslim males to testify that they have witnessed the act.

Pakistan has been a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since 1981. CSW is calling on the government of Pakistan to bring its law and practice in line with CEDAW. CSW is also urging the government of Pakistan to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes and to hold independent inquiries into those officials who seem to have acted impartially in these cases.

Stuart Windsor, National Director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: "Shakeela's ordeal has had terrible consequences for her but the injustice in the way her case is being dealt with by the authorities adds to her suffering.

"Women from minority religions such as Christianity have virtually no voice in the Pakistani criminal justice system and Shakeela's case is an outrage about which the international community should not be silent."