Jan 18, 2024

Christian victim of forced marriage in Pakistan escapes

In June 2021, Mehak Afzal, a 12-year-old Christian girl from Punjab, was abducted by a Muslim man who forced her to marry him. Now, two and a half years after she was kidnapped, Mehak has managed to escape. In Pakistan, hundreds of non-Muslim girls are victims of kidnapping and forced marriage every year.

Mehak Afzal with her mother (right) and two younger siblings. csi

Mehak Afzal (left) with her mother and two siblings. csi


A team from Christian Solidarity International (CSI) met Mehak’s mother Kiran and brother Hamza in Punjab in February 2023. At that time, Mehak was still in the hands of her abductor – a victim of forced marriage. Her family hadn’t seen her since the day she was kidnapped.  

Kiran had been worried about her daughter for some time. Mehak had spoken of being harassed on multiple occasions by an unknown Muslim man as she made her way to school. “Out of fear that she might be abducted, I had to persuade my daughter to stop going to school, which was not easy for me,” Kiran explained. 

However, even this drastic measure couldn’t protect Mehak. One evening in June 2021, Kiran had a doctor’s appointment and had to leave Mehak and her three younger sisters alone at home. Somehow, the Muslim man must have known this was an opportune moment to strike. Along with two of his brothers and their mother, he entered Kiran’s apartment and kidnapped Mehak.  

A desperate search 

For Mehak the kidnapping was just the beginning of her long ordeal: the underage girl was coerced into converting to Islam and forcibly married to her abductor. 

Mehak’s sudden disappearance caused immense suffering to her family, especially her father Afzal. For two days, he searched for his daughter tirelessly. The stress caused Afzal to suffer a mental breakdown and to temporarily lose his eyesight. He recovered very slowly and even after he had his sight back he couldn’t work due to ongoing mental health issues. 

Mehak’s abduction also affected her two older sisters. Out of fear for their safety, they too stopped going to school. 

Police inaction 

When Kiran returned home on that fateful evening in June 2021 and discovered what had happened, she and Hamza alerted the police.  

They informed the police of the abductor’s identity, and a court issued an arrest warrant. However, the police refused to apprehend the perpetrator. For months, Mehak’s family begged in vain for help. 

Although her parents knew where Mehak was living, approaching the house was too dangerous. But starting in August 2023, Mehak’s family was able to contact her by phone occasionally through their lawyer. These calls were  an opportunity to comfort Mehak and assure her that the rest of the family was safe. 

Escape and relocation 

For two and a half years, the courts and the police failed to free Mehak, even though her abductor and her location were well known. Finally, on December 23, 2023, Mehak freed herself. She managed to slip away from her captor’s home and made her way to her family.  

However, her family knew that Mehak wouldn’t be safe at home – her abductor knew where she lived, and might come back. Anjum, CSI’s partner in Pakistan, immediately took steps to find a safe place to stay for Mehak and her family.  

Kiran was overjoyed to have her daughter back. “Every day the whole family prayed to God that Mehak could be with us again,” she told CSI. “We knew that nothing was impossible for God. Now, my abducted daughter has returned. We are very grateful to CSI for the legal and financial help. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!” 

CSI is continuing to provide legal assistance to the Afzals as they seek to have the forced marriage annulled in court. 

In 2023 CSI provided support to 12 victims of forced marriage in Pakistan. Of these, six were freed while the other six are still being held captive. 

UN experts urge action 

United Nations human rights experts have expressed alarm over a rise in abductions, forced marriages and conversions of girls from Pakistan’s religious minorities. In a statement made on January 16, 2023, they urged the Pakistani government to bring a swift end to such practices. 

“We are deeply troubled to hear that girls as young as 13 are being kidnapped from their families, trafficked to locations far from their homes, made to marry men sometimes twice their age, and coerced to convert to Islam,” the Human Rights Council-appointed experts said. 

The group of  independent experts and Special Rapporteurs said Pakistan’s courts had enabled the perpetrators by accepting “fraudulent evidence” from them regarding the age of their victims and their willingness to marry and convert to Islam. 

Video: Mehak Afzal and her mother thank CSI

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