Sitara Arif, a 15-year-old Christian girl, was kidnapped on 15 December in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
Abducted by the husband of her employer, she was forcibly converted to Islam and then married to her captor. It took almost two months for police to finally register a case against Rana Tayyab, despite repeated pleas from the girl’s family.
According to Sitara’s father, Arif Masih Gill, the teenage girl provided domestic services for Naila Ambreen, who is employed by the government as a school principal. Because of her government position, Naila and her husband have considerable influence over the police. Therefore, when Arif tried to file a police report, it was outrightly rejected. Additionally, Sitara’s family members faced repeated acts of intimidation in an attempt to force them to drop the case.
The police only responded to the kidnapping after an advocacy group, Minorities Alliance Pakistan, was made aware of the situation on 3 February and demanded immediate action. When the authorities raided the home of the accused Muslim man, his wife handed police a certificate indicating Sitara’s marriage to Rana. The couple claims that Sitara had converted to Islam and married the 60-year-old man of her own free will.
Akmal Bhatti, who serves as the chairman of Minorities Alliance Pakistan, stated that girls from minority groups are targets of forcible marriage because their families are generally poor and do not have the resources to fight in court. “We are continuing to build pressure on the officials nonetheless, so that [the authorities] don’t slack in their responsibility,” he promised.
According to a 2021 report from Forbes magazine, at least 1,000 women from religious minorities are forcibly converted and married annually in Pakistan. The numbers are likely much higher since many cases go unreported.