Kidnapping, forced conversion and rape of Christian women and girls is 'human rights catastrophe'

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

A new report from Aid to the Church in Need has revealed the shocking extent to which atrocities are being committed against Christian women and girls.

The Catholic charity said that the scale and severity of the violations should be considered "a human rights catastrophe". 

This is the warning in its latest report, 'Hear Her Cries', which pays particular attention to the kidnapping, forced conversion and rape of Christian women and girls. 

"At its most extreme, the forced conversion of Christian women and girls can be called genocide, with
jihadists targeting them with intent to ensure the destruction of minority faith communities," the report reads.

But the full scale of the problem remains "largely hidden" because of widespread under-reporting, with victims and their families too afraid to speak up because of social shame, threats from abductors, and in some cases the silencing tactics of authorities who side with the perpetrators and turn a blind eye.

The problem is especially prevalent in Nigeria, where ACN estimates that Christians account for 95 per cent of the women and girls being held by Islamist extremists.

Other countries highlighted in the report include Pakistan and Egypt.

The report was published by ACN on Red Wednesday, held each year to raise awareness of the persecution of Christians. 

The foreward to the report was written by Maira Shahbaz, a Pakistani teenager who was kidnapped by a Muslim man, forced to marry him and forced to convert to Islam. 

She was raped multiple times before managing to escape but she and her family are now in hiding because of death threats from the abductor and his supporters. The family is appealing to the UK for asylum. 

"My whole family – my mother, my sisters, my brother and I – are in hiding, locked in a room. Suspects have been spotted in different areas asking about us," Maira said.

She asked that Christians speak up for girls like her. 

"I know there are so many other girls and young women, not only Christian but from other faiths too, who suffer abduction, rape, forced conversion and marriage, not just in Pakistan but in many other countries around the world. Who will help us? Who will speak up for us? Who cares about our situation?" she said. 

"Thanks so much to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and the many thousands of people who have done their best to help us and protect us. I am grateful for your prayers. I am also grateful for the release of this report.

"For too long, the world has remained silent. For too long, we have suffered in silence – freedom and faith have been crushed underfoot. Girls and young women are being treated no better than criminals. But at last we are able to speak up. The one who suffers can now speak. Isn't it time for the world to 'hear her cries'?"