1. Persecution of Christians
Otherness as a Threat
The situation of religious minorities in Pakistan
By Sabatina James & Prof. Dr. Rainer Rothfuss
Religious otherness is increasingly becoming a severe security threat for minorities almost all over the world. A recent study of the Pew Research Center (2014, p.8) has shown that the percentage of countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions or social hostilities against religious minorities has risen from 29 to 43% between 2007 and 2012. Nowadays 76% of the global population lives in such countries, compared to 68% in 2007. Therefore, the challenge of increasingly eroding tolerance towards religious otherness should no longer be neglected by international politics in order to relieve the often very critical situation of the most seriously affected religious minorities.
Fig. 1: Restrictions on religion in the most populous countries of the world in 2012 (Pew 2014, p.33)
Both in 2011 and in 2012 Pakistan was at the top of the countries with the severest social hostilities towards religious minorities (see figure 1, vertical scale). Such hostilities originate from religious groups and regular citizens who more and more often act violently in individual acts or collective mob attacks against minorities, above all targeting Christians. According to the Pew Research Center (2014, p.63) Pakistan, as the first country ever within the studies series monitoring religious intolerance since 2007, has reached the highest possible score of 10.0 on the scale of social hostilities in 2011 and of 9.8 in 2012. Pakistan’s importance as peer country in terms of Islamic radicalisation trends is underlined by its population size, as it is among the major Muslim countries in the world. Its total population of 190.7 million is projected to reach 245.9 million in 2025 and 363.2 million in 2050 (DSW, 2013, p.12). Within 36 years from now Pakistan is expected to be the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, outnumbering Indonesia.
Among the estimated 3.6% of non-Muslim religious minorities in Pakistan (CIA, 2014), the approx. 2 to 3% of Christians are often neglected (e.g. in the Global Slavery Index report for 2013 they have not been mentioned specifically although constituting a major group of people affected by modern slavery; Walk Free, 2013, pp.39-42). Christians are not only a small religious minority in Pakistan, usually they also belong to the socially most marginalised and vulnerable population group due to their status of being “the inferior other” as seen by the majority Muslim (85 to 90% Sunni and 10 to 15% Shia population). Christians often originate from the Hindu outcasts who had converted to Christianity in colonial times in order to escape social discrimination. Still nowadays, Christians usually belong to the lower class and scarcely have access to education and political power.
Many of the 2-2.2 million slaves in Pakistan are Christians and are subject to bounded work. The Christian minority in the Pakistani province of Punjab are generally among the poorest of the poor of this region. Heavily indebted householders are forced to sell themselves and their families to rich brickyard owners in order to survive. That also means lifelong bondage. These people are not only exploited but are usually also victims of abuse and rape of women. Especially in this region, Christian girls are often forced into marriage with a Muslim and to convert to Islam.
The critical situation of religious minorities in Pakistan is also reflected by the uneven application of blasphemy laws. Paragraph 295-B foresees lifetime imprisonment for the desecration of the Quran and § 295-C the death penalty for insulting Prophet Mohammed. Approx. 50% of all 1,500 blasphemy cases so far has affected members of the religious minorities of Pakistan which make up only 3.6% of the total population. This means that the risk to be accused of blasphemy is almost 15 times higher for a non-Muslim than for a Muslim. According to experts, to date no cases are known where the blasphemy law has ever been applied in a justified and judicially transparent way in Pakistan. No death penalty has been executed for blasphemy reasons so far but often “blasphemists” are either killed by members of the civil society or have to flee Pakistan to seek asylum in a safe country.
Women in Pakistan
In the 2009 Gender Development Index (GDI) Pakistan ranked 124 in a list of 155 countries and areas (UN, 2009, p.185). The share of Pakistani women able to read and write was with 39.6% far behind the share of men with 67.7%. Gender inequality, however, affects women and girls from poor families most seriously: Whereas 82.7% of girls aged 15 to 19 from wealthy families (96.6% of boys) are allowed to attend school, this share drops sharply to 22.3% for girls from poor families and therefore falls much further behind the share of boys from the same social class (66.1%). As Pakistani women in average earn only 18% of the salary of men in comparable jobs, their possibilities to become economically independent are very limited.
Even though women officially should be granted 33% of all seats in parliament, the NGO Free and Fair Election Network reports that only 4% (160) of all 4,600 candidates in the last elections were women. Women who want to become politically active often are threatened by the society. This situation is well reflected by the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) in which Pakistan ranked 99 in a list 109 countries and territories (UN, 2009, p.190).
Pakistan is among the leading countries of the world in terms of so called “honour killings”. According to the International Honour Based Violence Resource Centre with approx. 1,000 victims per year Pakistan accounts for 20% of all honour killings worldwide. Honour killings have been prohibited by law only in 2004 but it goes without saying that they are still deeply inscribed into Pakistani society and almost never lead to prosecution and effective punishment of the perpetrators who, as they often are from the victim’s family, easily can hide the assassination as an accident. The Middle East Forum guesses that the total number of women killed in honour crimes in Pakistan alone amounts to 5,000 victims per year. Sohail Warraich (2005) estimates the number of victims in Pakistan even higher, speaking of 10,000 women killed for honour reasons every year in Pakistan. Honour killings are a problem mainly of Muslim countries where 91% of all cases occur. As 72% of the perpetrators come from the victim’s own family (Chesler, 2010), much greater efforts to protect vulnerable women are needed beyond often ineffective and merely formal legal measures.
Another women and minority specific threat, often overshadowed by the phenomenon of honour killings, is the abduction and forced conversion to Islam of young, mainly Christian women. The Catholic NGO Fides estimates that every year 700 helpless Christian girls undergo this horrific treatment, usually completely beyond the consciousness of the majority society and any state organisations responsible for the citizens’ safety.
What needs to be done
With a special project Sabatina e.V. helps enslaved women and girls. In evening courses that are conducted by a partner organisation, women learn sewing and embroidering. With 100 simple sewing machines (30 Euros each) which were given to the women at the end of the course they now work in stitching centres with connected stores in which their pieces are sold. More courses are offered to protect helpless women and girls against abuse.
The Pakistani government should increase its efforts to punish those who profit from slavery and abuse of women working on brick farms. Issues of illiteracy and discrimination against women (especially with Christian background) need to be addressed consistently. The blasphemy law should be abolished or at least its abuse should be severely punished. Residential areas of religious minorities should be effectively guarded by the police in order to prevent future mob attacks. Schools should engage in anti-discrimination education, raising awareness among pupils for the dignity of all religious and racial groups of Pakistan.
European governments should recognise the difficult situation of the Christian minority in Pakistan and grant asylum to persecuted persons. Our experience reveals that asylum seekers from religious minorities often face continued harassment and violence in their new host countries by radical Muslims who are often roommates in their asylum homes. European governments should not be afraid of offending other governments or migrant groups when addressing critical issues as religious minority rights. A controversial debate on such issues has to be started departing from Europe before the political arena in the less liberal countries can be opened up and sensitised for the urgency of securing minority rights. Development cooperation should take seriously and critically into consideration the countries’ real and tangible efforts to secure minority rights. Human rights, religious freedom and minority rights should be established as a self-standing sector of development cooperation as they constitute a central cross-cutting development factor. Furthermore, NGOs empowering minorities should be supported to enhance their work, complementing government cooperation initiatives.
Countries willing to support minority rights and religious freedom matters should proactively seek mutual coordination and build up a multinational coalition. Concrete and systematic action should underline the willingness of democratic nations to eagerly fight for those liberal values that have shaped democratic societies.
Chesler, Phyllis (2010): Worldwide Trends in Honor Killings. In: Middle East Quarterly, 17(2), pp. 3-11 http://www.meforum.org/2646/worldwide-trends-in-honor-killings
CIA (2014): The World Factbook: Pakistan. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pk.html
DSW (2013): Datenreport 2013 der Stiftung Weltbevölkerung. Soziale und demographische Daten weltweit. www.weltbevoelkerung.de/uploads/tx_tspagefileshortcut/Datenreport_2013_Stiftung_Weltbevoelkerung.pdf
Pew Research Center (2014): Religious Hostilities Reach Six-Year-High. www.pewforum.org/files/2014/01/RestrictionsV-full-report.pdf
UN (2009): Human Development Report 2009. Overcoming barriers: Human mobility and development. http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2009_EN_Complete.pdf
Walk Free (2013): Global Slavery Index 2013. www.globalslaveryindex.org
Warraich, Sohail A. (2005): “Honour killings” and the law in Pakistan. In: Welchman, Lynn & Hossain, Sara (ed.): “Honour” crimes, paradigms, and violence against women. London, New York: Zed Books, pp
2. Forced marriage / honor violence
If women in crisis situations contact Sabatina e.V. for help, the staff respond with sensitivity and wisdom. It is important to take every affected person seriously. Sabatina e.V. knows: This must not be played down – this situation could well be about life and death. The first hurdle is taken with establishment of contact. Then it is a matter of overcoming fear and of identifying possibilities and ways out of suppression. The most brutal violence must not be accepted as a cultural peculiarity.
The offers of help by Sabatina e.V. at a glance:
- Psychological and pastoral initial care
- Advice and assistance by telephone or in personal conversations in secure locations
- Placement: 24-hour emergency hotline, anonymous medical care, temporary and permanent accommodation in protection facilities
- Financial support for accommodation, meals, in individual cases, also legal fees
- Assistance in arranging job opportunities and with public authorities matters
- Coaching in personality development
Emergency hotline calls
Help for Gülsen
Like many little girls, Gülsen dreamed a dream. It was the dream of a princess from 1001 Nights. A dream of family, security, and a sheltered life. But always, a dark suspicion hung over this dream. And one day, this dream had become a terrible nightmare – a trauma. What had happened?
As is customary in her tradition, Gülsen had been married off by her parents: to a man from her village. The initial rejecting and cool attitude of her husband would have been bearable, perhaps. But eventually, he began to beat her. Her injuries were getting worse, not just the physical abuse but also the mental humiliation. After a particularly bad outbreak of violence from her husband, she saw only one way out: she wanted to jump out the window. Her pain was too great and she could not bear it any longer.
It’s a miracle that she still managed to get herself to a safe place with the help of the police. She is now living in a shelter but fears that she may face deportation to Turkey because the authorities do not recognize her suffering as a hardship case, although she is traumatized by the terrible violence.
Esma’s new life
The wish to shape her own life had been denied to Esma. But she dared to break out of a spiral of repression and to follow the path to freedom. She was able to rely on the personal assistance of Sabatina e.V. We accompanied her and showed her new perspectives for a life of hope and confidence. First, she found peace and security while under the care of trusted persons. In discussions with staff from Sabatina e.V., she then learned to discover new perspectives and to boldly walk in her own footsteps.
* Name changed to protect the victims
Providing effective assistance
Emine – one of many women who have made the road to freedom!
At the age of 13, Emine* was forced into marriage in Afghanistan. At 14, she had her first child, the second one followed two years later. She fled to Germany. Her husband followed her and abused her. Like many other women, Emine sought help with Sabatina e.V. When her asylum application expired, she was about to not only face violence from her husband but also death at the hands of her family in Afghanistan. Sabatina obtained an extension of the residence permit and assisted the young woman with attorney’s fees. She has a new apartment now, as well as a job. The first steps to freedom have been made.
Roxana, 17, Pakistan:
„Sabatina, you have shown me that there are still people in this world who care without expecting anything in return. You are my role model. I would like to thank you for everything. “
„Sabatina, I pray that Allah will reward you for everything you have done for me and my daughters. You are part of the family to us already. “
Hatune, 21, Turkey:
„Thanks for everything, Sabatina. Thanks to you, I finally got something to wear. You made for a big and positive change in my life. I want to thank you for everything you have done for me. “
Ehepaar Sozia (32) und Aamir (40):
„Dear Sabatina, we would like to thank you wholeheartedly for all your help. Our long journey to you has paid off. Our two girls love you. “
* Name changed to protect the victims
How can I help?
Your help with the implementation of the tasks of Sabatina e.V. is always welcome and valuable. You can help us by:
- a one-off donation
Any amount sent directly to our bank account by bank transfer helps those seeking our assistance and will provide a way out of hopelessness.
- permanent support
Your continuous support, be it monthly or yearly, allows us to ensure the existence of our long-term projects and offers of help. Whether it is 5, 10, 25 or more EUR – with an amount of your choice, you can become a direct project sponsor and will receive regular updates on the progress and course of the respective help project.
- Sending victims our way
Please have the courage to reach out to women and girls where you know for a fact that violence is being inflicted on them. Make contact with Sabatina e.V. Do not do so in a roundabout way via family members.
- Ambassador of the association
Your contacts with the media can be helpful for our concerns. Make yourself available as a contact intermediary, so that we can use targeted public relations work to draw attention to our cause. Help us by distributing flyers among your circle of contacts. Please contact us if required.
Please contact us. We need you!