Christian girls in Pakistan targeted in trafficking horror

May 4, 2022 by Tim Dustin in Persecution updates

It’s a horrifying story that seems like it’s from a movie.

But for Pakistani Christians, it’s all too real.

In a story for the Associated Press, Kathy Gannon and Dake Kang report what’s happening to our sisters:

Simbal Akmal, 18, was taken [to a boarding house in Islamabad] by her parents. Two other Christian girls were already there in a large sitting room, picking grooms. Three Chinese men were presented to Simbal, and her father demanded she choose one. She told him she didn’t want to marry, but he insisted, claiming “it was a matter of our honor,” she said.

“He had already promised I would marry one,” she said. “They just wanted money.”

She married, but immediately fled. She was joined by her sister, who refused her parents’ demands to marry a Chinese man. Both escaped to a refuge.

Thank God Simbal and her sister were able to escape. But they represent just a fraction of the hundreds—and potentially thousands—of Christian girls who are forced to marry Chinese men each year.

What’s happening in Pakistan?

A new policy brief from the Brookings Institution shows the shocking scope of this issue. The executive summary states: “The practice involved cases of fraudulent marriage between Pakistani women and girls—many of them from marginalized backgrounds and Christian families—and Chinese men who had traveled to Pakistan. The victims were lured with payments to the family and promises of a good life in China, but reported abuse, difficult living conditions, forced pregnancy, or forced prostitution once they reached China.”

In much of its new brief, the Brookings Institution looks at a 2019 Associated Press report about the results of an investigation on cases of Pakistani women and girls being trafficked through marriage to China.

According to the report, marriage brokers troll poor areas, especially Christian neighborhoods and churches, and try to work with trusted clergy as well. Underaged girls are the main target and money is promised to the families in return for marriage—typically between $3,500 and $5,000, though the amount varies.

The paying for brides not only alleviates the great burden of a typical dowry for poor Pakistani families, but also amounts to a very generous “bride price;” such payment is not illegal under Pakistani law.

Pakistan’s small Christian community, centered in the Punjab province, makes a vulnerable target. Open Doors estimates there are a little more than 4 million Christians in this nation of 212 million, which is No. 8 on the 2022 World Watch List. Christians are among Pakistan’s most deeply impoverished people and have little political or social support. Plus, non-Muslim men are not allowed to marry Muslim women in Pakistan without converting to Islam. By targeting Christian girls and women, marriage brokers guarantee an easy union for the Chinese men desperate to marry.

Who are the grooms?

Some of the grooms are from among the tens of thousands of Chinese in Pakistan working on infrastructure projects under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a project that has further boosted ties between the two countries in recent years. Other grooms search directly from China through media networks. They present themselves as Christian converts, but many pastors complicit in the deals don’t ask for any documentation.

“When paying for the bride, they include payments to parents, pastors and a broker,” Saleem Iqbal told the Associated Press. Iqbal is an activist and a journalist with a small Christian station, Isaac TV. Iqbal has gone to court to stop marriages and shelter runaway brides, some as young as 13.

After the initial media attention in 2019, Pakistan’s government cracked down on some of the trafficking. But the new policy brief from Brookings makes it clear that the problem has not stopped. “By late 2019, more than half of the traffickers had been acquitted in a Pakistani court, the others were all given bail and flown out of Pakistan, investigators were pressured by Pakistani authorities to let the cases slide, and journalists were asked to curtail their reporting on the issue,” the brief describes.

One official interviewed by the Associated Press said that the initial arrests had made little difference—and that the problem is getting worse: “No one is doing anything to help these girls. The whole racket is continuing, and it is growing. Why? Because they know they can get away with it. The authorities won’t follow through, everyone is being pressured to not investigate. Trafficking is increasing now. The lucrative trade continues.”

Is kidnapping and abduction a localized issue?

This reality is something that Open Doors has long flagged—and the problem isn’t just with trafficking to China. Kidnapping Christian girls is rampant even within the country. Hana, one of our ministry partners in the Gulf region, revealed the real issue facing believers in Pakistan. “Nowadays, there are at least two cases of disappearing Christian women and girls each day,” she says. And that’s just in her region.

In November 2020, our field shared about the abduction of a 13-year-old Pakistani girl named Arzoo. A 44-year-old Muslim extremist kidnapped the young girl from her home in Karachi while her parents were at work. A few days later, before a court, the man presented a marriage certificate.

During the hearing, Arzoo declared her belief in Islam and told the judges she was 18. A judge declared she had converted to Islam of her own free will and returned Arzoo to her kidnapper. Our partners tell us afterward, Arzoo tried to run to her mother, but her new “husband’s” tight grip on her arm stopped her.

In the midst of such darkness, the light of Christ is critical. Hana asks everyone who reads her words to pray fervently for Christian girls and women.

“During our time on earth, we will hear of many Arzoos,” she says. “There is so much injustice in this world, But we cling to the promise of Psalm 136—that Christ’s love endures forever and, like Psalm 3 tells us, He is our shield, our glory and the lifter of our heads.”

Stand with your family in prayer!

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Our family needs our prayers

Let’s cry out to God and pray for our sisters in Pakistan, that they will be made aware of the ghastly schemes of man and make wise decisions. Let’s pray governments call out this 21st century slavery for what it is and protect those who are being taken advantage of. Let’s pray those who have been forced into slavery and worse find immediate healing and rescue. And let’s also pray for justice, that God will protect His flock and that everyone will be held accountable for their acts.

God, we know Evil is desperate; we ask You protect Your people as Jehovah Rohi, our Lord and Shepherd.

Hear our pained cries and deliver Your justice. Amen.

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