End sexual violence against Christian women, petition urges

Christian women and girls in Nigeria are at risk of being abducted, forcibly converted and falling victim to sexual violence.(Photo: ACN/Jaco Klamer)

The UK government and UN are being urged to halt the "epidemic" levels of violence against Christian women and girls around the world.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) said they are living with "double jeopardy" because of their gender and religion, with threats including abduction, sexual violence and forced conversion. 

The call for action has been made in a petition launched by ACN on Tuesday ahead of Red Wednesday, its annual day to highlight the global problem of persecution, being marked this year on 24 November.

Violence against Christian women and girls will be the focus of ACN's annual persecution report being released on the same day, this year under the title of "Hear Her Cries".

"We call on the UK Government and the United Nations to take more effective steps to address the double jeopardy faced by women and girls from religious minorities in certain countries suffering sexual violence and persecution," the petition reads.

"In some countries, it is bad enough being a woman – it is even more dangerous being a woman or girl who is a Christian or from another minority faith group.

"Such girls and women live under the constant threat of abduction, sexual violence and forced conversion." 

ACN is especially concerned about the plight of Christian women and girls in Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria where it warns that "predatory men" are taking advantage of their "social vulnerability" as members of religious minorities. 

Sir Edward Leigh MP, who is backing the petition, said the case of Christian Pakistani teenager Maira Shahbaz illustrates the danger Christian women and girls face.

Maira was abducted at the age of 14, raped, forced to convert to Islam and marry her abductor. She remains in hiding after escaping and is now seeking asylum in the UK along with her family.

"As Maira's case shows, Christian women and girls are stripped of their rights as human beings – they are rendered helpless in the face of their captors' lust," said Sir Edward.

"It is as if the women's Christian faith gives their abductors the licence to treat them as slaves. We must speak up for these innocent people who suffer in a disgraceful way.

"We in this country have been outraged by atrocities committed against vulnerable women in the UK – we should have the same level of contempt for acts of violence committed against other women far from our shores, at risk because of their faith."

The petition also has the support of Baroness Cox who will present on the "Hear Her Cries" report in the Lords.

She is asking "everyone who has a heart for women and girls who suffer in this way" to sign this petition.

"The UK government and the UN need to take more effective steps to stop this problem," she said. 

"This should include robust legislation that is actually enforced to the letter of the law, security improvements and cultural changes that make it easier for women and girls to be protected from these abuses."

Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of ACN UK, said the organisation had received many disturbing reports about sexual violence against Christian women "often involving forced conversions following abduction and rape". 

"In a significant number of countries – particularly Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria – Christian women, and women of other minority faith groups, are extremely vulnerable because of their religious beliefs; predatory men take advantage of their social vulnerability, whilst the authorities or local governors often appear complicit," he said.