A leading bishop in Pakistan has called on the international community to do more to address the kidnapping, sexual assault and forced conversion of young people from Christian and other religious minorities in Pakistan.
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore made the call during an event at the shrine of Christ the King in Setúbal Diocese, organised by the Portuguese office of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Underlining that young people can be abducted anywhere, he said: “These children are not even free to play in the garden. We have a duty to speak about what is happening, to prevent these cases.”
Archbishop Shaw stressed the suffering of parents of abducted children.
He said: “Just imagine the situation of these parents, who prepare their children’s schoolbags, send them off to class, and then never see them again because they were kidnapped.
“Sometimes their bodies are found, and they can hold the funerals, and mourn.
“But in other cases, all that the parents can do is cry over the disappearance of their children.”
The archbishop added that the issue does not just affect girls: “Sometimes boys are also kidnapped, sexually abused and often killed”.
According to the Pakistan-based Movement for Solidarity and Peace, up to 1,000 Christian and Hindu women and girls aged between 12 and 25 are seized each year.
Archbishop Shaw said the Pakistan government was trying to address the abduction, rape, forced marriage and forced conversion of people from minority faith groups – but added that support from the international community can help tackle the problem.
He said Lahore Archdiocese was working on these issues through an inter-faith group.
The archbishop thanked ACN for all its support – but asked for more help in raising awareness of these cases. which he said affect hundreds of young people each year.
He said: “Pakistan is a very large country. When we speak of a problem in one area, that does not mean that this issue is occurring everywhere.
“Nonetheless, these public awareness events are an important part of the effort to diminish the number of cases.”
In 2021, the UK office of ACN produced the report Hear Her Cries which looked at the kidnapping, forced conversion and sexual victimisation of Christian women and girls.
It examined the problems Christian communities face in Egypt, Iraq, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Syria, as well as Pakistan.