A Muslim doctor forcefully converted a 13-year-old Christian girl to Islam to allow her to work in their family kitchen in Pakistan.
It is one of many continuing cases involving the persecution of individuals and families who are part of minority religions outside of the country's predominant Islamic faith.
CLAAS-UK, an interdenominational organisation working with Christians who are being persecuted in Pakistan because of their faith, have labelled this case as one of the “most egregious example[s] of modern slavery and religious abuse”.
The girl in question's father and mother from Muzaffargarh – Munawar Masih, a Christian by faith, and his wife Mehtan Bibi – work with a local landlord, for Rs. 8000/month.
The couple have eight children: Neha 13, Sneha 11, Marriam 12, Anaya 7, Vishal, 9, Sagar 8, Prem,10 and Adeel, 6. With this many mouths to feed and house, it can be very hard for a family of this size to survive on such a low-income.
Therefore, when someone told Masih that Dr. Altaf, a local doctor, was looking to employ two girls to work at his house, he agreed and sent his two older daughters, Neha and Sneha, to work at the doctor's house.
Masih was told that as Dr. Altaf’s children were studying in higher education, his wife could not manage alone and they were looking for help around the house.
The girls would be given a live-in job to help around the kitchen for Rs. 10,000/month with Masih's family given the ability to visit them on occasion to check on their welfare.
However, at the end of the month, Dr. Altaf handed Masih just Rs. 3000 instead of the agreed Rs. 10,000. Dr. Altaf informed Masih that the girls were too young and he would not pay them the agreed Rs. 10,000.
Neha and Sneha would go on to work in Dr. Altaf's household for a further four years. During this time, they started to raise concerns that they were being mistreated by the family – including verbal and even physical assaults.
The girls alleged that they were treated by the family like slaves and they were rarely allowed to meet their parents. Even despite requesting to leave the household to go back to their family, Dr. Altaf would not allow Neha and Sneha to leave.
When Sneha fell ill and wasn’t of any use to the family, she was eventually sent back to her parents. However, Dr. Altaf's family were not willing to return Neha.
Masih requested that Dr. Altaf return Neha too, as he was not willing to leave his other daughter behind, but Dr. Altaf told him that Neha had embraced Islam and, therefore, could not live with her old family.
It was a shocking revelation for Masih who refused to accept that this had transpired. Dr. Altaf explained that since his family was Muslim, it was not possible for them to allow any non-Muslim to enter their kitchen and touch their food items and kitchen utensils.
Additionally, Dr. Altaf dropped another bombshell on Masih: he claimed to have mistakenly overpaid Masih by Rp. 275,000 (US$1,750). Masih was told that until this amount was paid off, his daughter would not be allowed to return home.
Nasir Saeed, Director of CLAAS-UK, claimed that this criminal act is an everyday occurrence in Pakistan and that the government is not paying attention when it happens to the families of Christians and other religious minorities in the country, allowing the acts to continue with impunity.
He added: “Perhaps Pakistan is the only country where such crimes are happening on a daily basis under the cover of Islam. It cannot be justified at any cost that a young girl was converted to Islam against her will and without her parents’ knowledge. Now she cannot be returned to her parents, because her parents are Christians, and she, therefore cannot be allowed to live with them.
“This is the most egregious example of modern slavery and religious abuse. There is no room for such callous justification in modern society. Pakistan cannot continue in the dark ages of Islamic practices to enslave Christian and Hindu girls.
“No such law exists in Pakistan under which any child can be converted to Islam and enslaved for life in the name of Islam. It is a serious violation of local and international human rights laws, especially the convention on children rights that the government of Pakistan has ratified.”
Saeed stressed that the government should immediately intervene and register a case against Dr. Altaf to help the family get their daughter back. Pakistan already has one of the worst records for human rights violations and for the mistreatment of its minorities. It is considered the fifth most dangerous country in the world for Christians.
Such cases can only serve to further harm Pakistan’s image and make things worse for the country at an international level. The EU has already issued warnings and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated Pakistan a country of particular concern (CPC) for violation of religious freedoms.