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Warning over Pakistan’s failure to protect Christian women

By Sarah Mac Donald - 18 September, 2018

Catholic women at prayer during Sunday Mass in the Cathedral of Lahore. Photo: Magdalena Wolnik/ACN.

A Catholic lawyer in Pakistan has accused the authorities in her country of failing to protect Christian women who are threatened with rape and death if they will not abandon their faith and agree to a forced marriage.

Tabassum Yousaf spoke to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and related how the police and the judiciary are failing to ensure justice for women, both Christians and members of other religious minorities.

She highlighted how some of these women suffer physical and psychological oppression from men demanding their hand in marriage.

Ms Yousaf said police often refuse to open a case against alleged oppressors and that judges are under pressure from political parties.

She highlighted how Christians are easily oppressed because of their extreme poverty.

“Young Christian women, who come from simple circumstances, are powerless against their attackers,” she told ACN.

She added, “Many people are afraid because the Muslim community threatens to rape or kill the women of these families.”

Ms Yousaf said the police and judges do not offer Christians adequate and fair legal assistance.

Many Christians and other faith minorities are unaware that they have the same rights as Muslims, and very few know they can file charges with the courts.

According to Ms Yousaf, the refusal of the police to open a case, together with threats from the relatives and friends of the perpetrators, ensure that many families do not even report the crimes they have suffered.

In August, an 18-year-old Christian woman, Binish Paul, was allegedly thrown from the roof of a second-storey building after refusing to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim named Taheer Abbas.

“For months, Taheer had been putting pressure on Binish to convert to Islam. Over and over again, she refused. This culminated in the violent act, during which the young woman sustained severe fractures to her legs and spine,” Ms Yousaf told ACN.

Despite Binish Paul’s parents’ complaint to the police, the authorities declined to investigate their daughter’s attack and the hospital refused to provide a report on her injuries.

Ms Yousaf also alleges that Ms Paul’s family received a death threat from the family of the perpetrator, who said that if the case were not closed, they would all be accused of blasphemy.

A conviction of blasphemy in Pakistan can carry the death sentence, as was handed down in the case of Catholic mother-of-five Asia Bibi who, despite concerns over the veracity of the evidence, was found guilty of defaming the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.

Ms Yousaf has calculated that each year in Karachi city alone there are 15 to 30 violent attacks against Christian women. She estimates that fewer than five of these are reported to the police.

Stressing the need for awareness-raising among Christian communities about their legal rights, she told ACN, “As a Catholic solicitor, I consider it important that they have access to more information in this area and receive legal assistance. I am rendering this service for God and my Church.”

Ms Yousaf’s family protected her from a forced-marriage conversion attempt when she was a student.

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