An 18-year-old Christian servant in Pakistan was beaten for refusing her employers’ demands to convert to Islam, according to her family and a London-based human rights group.
According to the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, an interdenominational aid agency, Anika Shehzad from the Ferozwala district Shakhupura in the Punjab province was beaten earlier this month, a few days after she took a job as a live-in servant.
The charity reports that Shehzad comes from a poor family and accepted the job as a domestic servant for the Muslim family, which paid about $30 per month. She was referred to the job by a neighbor.
But after being pressured by members of the employing family for her to leave Christ and to follow Islam, Shehzad was said to have told the family that she decided to quit the job.
Her decision to quit angered the family members and they began to beat the teenager. After the beating, Shehzad was taken back to her parents’ home in Ferozwala.
The employer told the girl’s father that she had been beaten for stealing money. After the child was taken for medical treatment, her parents began asking questions about why she was beaten.
CLAAS-UK reports that in response, the employer’s family accused the girl’s father of stealing money although he never visited the house where his daughter was working.
The family has sought the help of a local member of Parliament, Tariq Masih Gill. The family believes that their daughter was beaten only because she refused to convert to Islam, according to CLAAS-UK.
CLAAS-UK Director Nasir Saeed said in a statement that even though the Punjab Domestic Workers Act was passed in Lahore High Court in January 2019, abuses against domestic servants continue in Pakistan as the law largely remains unenforced.
“Christians in Pakistan are illiterate and poor, and many poor families are forced to take risks such as sending their young daughters to rich Muslim families to work as live-in domestic servants for a little money,” he explained.
“These young girls are often sexually harassed, tortured and sometimes are asked to convert to Islam.”
According to Saeed, some cases of abuse are reported by the media, such as the case of a Pakistani judge and his wife who were jailed for torturing their 10-year-old maid and causing multiple injuries in 2016.
“Several girls have even been killed, like Shazia Masih, 12,” Saeed said. “And several cases are taken to the courts but hardly any family has got justice. And the practice still continues because perpetrators are always influential and rich. And sometimes, victims are [pressured] to withdraw their cases and some victims are compensated with money.”
Pakistan, a Muslim majority country, has long been criticized for poor human rights conditions for religious minorities.
Open Doors USA ranks Pakistan as the fifth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recognize that as many as 1,000 young women are forcibly converted to Islam each year. Many of those women are “kidnapped, forcibly married, and subjected to rape.
Throughout Pakistan, Christians face societal pressure to convert to Islam. A viral video posted to TikTok in July shows one Christian man being pressured by a group of Muslims to accept Islam but refusing to do so.