Ending the Cycle of Abduction, Forced Faith Conversion, and Child Marriages
In October, Jubilee Campaign joined forces with Set My People Free, Voice for Justice, Coptic Solidarity, and Christian Freedom International to hold a panel on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly Third Committee to shed light on the plight of victims of forced marriage and coerced conversions, with a focus on religious and indigenous minority women and girls in Pakistan, Nigeria, and Egypt. UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Professor Tomoya Obokata, who we have been honored to work with over the past few years, set the tone of the meeting, stating “child and forced marriage constitute a clear violation of fundamental human rights norms and principles”. He additionally outlined the various factors which exacerbate women and girls’ vulnerability to abduction and forced marriages, including: gender inequality, systemic and societal views about women and girls, poverty, lack of or limited access to education, and faith minority status, among others.
In Muslim-majority nations such as Pakistan, the conversion of an individual of a minority faith to Islam is largely welcomed as a furthering of the majority religion; such a pervasive belief allows kidnappers to kidnap forcibly convert young Christian and Hindu girls with impunity. Special Rapporteur Obokata expressed concerns about this inhumane practice in his joint letter to the government of Pakistan. Maryam Oyiza, a human rights defender from Nigeria, shed light on the obstacles to preventing abductions and forced marriages as well as justice and accountability for such crimes. Ms. Oyiza noted that even some public servants derelict from their duties by endangering and violating the very citizens they are obliged to protect, and cases have been reported in which legislators themselves married girl children.
In mid-July, the UN Human Rights Council adopted its sixth resolution on the topic of child, early and forced marriages. Jubilee Campaign joined ADF International’s initiative to call for additional language in the resolution specifically addressing the concerning pattern of coerced conversions and forced marriages as a form of religiously sanctioned slavery/trafficking by non-state actors. While not all of the suggested language was adopted, we welcomed the clause that the Council is “deeply concerned also by reports of forced religious conversion and by forced marriage imposed by armed groups, strongly condemning attacks on and abductions of women and girls, including terrorist attacks, urging States to protect them from attacks, and recognizing that forced marriage may result in situations that meet the international legal definition of slavery”.
Indeed, Pakistani Christian and Hindu girls kidnapped and forcibly married are often subjected to sexual and domestic servitude to their ‘husbands’. A similar pattern is perpetuated by Islamic jihadist militants in Nigeria who confine kidnapped girls and women to the barracks where they undertake domestic duties by day and are subjected to sexual violence by night. The Council resolution additionally calls on Member States to eliminate “any [domestic legal] provisions that may enable perpetrators of rape, sexual exploitation and abuse, abduction, trafficking in persons or slavery-like practices to escape prosecution and punishment by marrying their victims, and urges States to engage traditional and religious leaders and actors, among others, to eliminate the misuse of traditional practices to resolve sexual and gender-based violence incidents through marriage.”
In July, Executive Director Ann Buwalda participated in a panel on international advocacy at Coptic Solidarity’s 11th Annual Conference. Joined by two of our close partners, Trent Martin of 21Wilberforce and Sean Nelson of ADF International, Ann encouraged activists of interdisciplinary backgrounds to cooperate, align their goals, and amplify their voices when appealing to countries to achieve positive developments in the realms of human rights and religious freedom. Leveraging partnership not only with organizations representing the same faith, but also other faiths or no faith at all, establishes credibility and interfaith solidarity which forges a more robust avenue for our concerns to be discussed at high-level consultations such as the UN and the European Union. Coptic Solidarity’s Lindsay Rodriguez additionally bestowed upon Ann the Atef Jacob Annual Leadership Award for her mentorship in Coptic Solidarity’s process of applying for UN consultative status, and for Jubilee Campaign’s collaboration in holding events raising the plight of Coptic Christian girls in Egypt.
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