Maira’s story – Forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan
14 year old Maira Shahbaz was abducted at gunpoint and forced to convert to Islam and marry one of her abductors. She escaped and now lives in hiding.
Themes: Forced conversion and marriage, rape, equality, religious personal identity law
In Pakistan, it is estimated that around 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and women are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married each year. Many are sexually abused, and the police are often reluctant to pursue justice. This is Maira’s story.
In April 2020, 14 year old Maira Shahbaz was abducted at gunpoint by three men and forced to convert to Islam and marry one of her abductors. A falsified marriage certificate claimed that she was 19 and her ‘husband’ insisted that she had married him and chosen to convert to Islam of her own free will.
Her parents went to court to get her back. A local court ordered that Maira be sent to live in a women’s shelter until the High Court ruled. Despite her parents producing a birth certificate showing her to be 14 years old (below the age at which marriage is permitted) and despite the Grand Mufti of a local mosque declaring the marriage certificate produced in court to be false, the High Court ruled that Maira be returned to her abductor’s custody.
Leaving Islam is banned in Pakistan, and non-Muslim parents cannot have custody of Muslim children, contributing to the vulnerability of girls to these crimes.
Two weeks later Maira escaped. Maira reports having been repeatedly raped. She also claims that her abductor and his family threatened to kill her family should she fail to support his version of events in the High Court. Maira now lives in hiding and is fighting to have her marriage annulled and her legal status changed back to Christian.