The latest case of an 11 year-old Pakistani girl with Downs Syndrome who was arrested for allegedly defiling the Koran is just one of many incidents in the past few years that involved the targeting of Christian children by Islamic extremists in Pakistan.
Agenzia Fides, the Vatican’s news service, is reporting that the targeting of children in Pakistan by extremists has become a deadly trend. The case of Rimsha Masih, whose age is said to be between 11 and 16 years, was arrested under that country’s draconian blasphemy law after local Muslims discovered burned pages of the Koran in her possession. The case is causing international outrage because Rimsha has Downs Syndrome and cannot read.
Cardinal Jean-Louise Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue chided Pakistani authorities for the arrest. “Before asserting that a sacred text has been the object of scorn, it is worth checking the facts,” he told Vatican Radio.
He went on to say that Rimsha “is a girl who cannot read or write, and collects garbage to live on and picked up the fragments of the book which was in the middle of the rubbish.”
In light of the facts, he says it is impossible that the child tried to express her scorn for the sacred book of Islam.
As of this writing, Rimsha is still in the custody of Pakistani police, with authorities now saying they are doing so to protect the girl from the trumped-up outrage over her alleged offense. Her family has gone into hiding, and many Christians in the poor Islamabad suburb of Mehrabad where Rimsha lives have also fled.
As outrageous as this story is, it is only one of many tragic incidences of extremist violence being directed against Christian children in Pakistan.
For example, just a week after Rimsha’s arrest, the mutilated body of an 11 year-old Christian boy was found in the Punjab province. Identified as Samuel Yaqoob, he was found with his nose, lips and legs cut off and his stomach organs removed.
During the same time period as the above cases, another Christian boy, 14 year-old Waiz Masih, was also killed by young Muslims after a “discussion on religion.” Waiz had been savagely beaten, then thrown unconscious into a channel where he drowned.
“We are talking about a long trail of Christian children killed for different reasons: hatred towards minorities, attempts to convert to Islam (over 700 girls a year), organ or human trafficking, enslavement. All crimes have a common denominator: Christian children are considered ‘goods’ and deprived of their dignity,” Fides reports.
They go on to list some of the more high-profile cases that occurred just in the past year:
– Amaria Masih, an l8-year-old Catholic was raped and murdered on November 27, 2011 in the village of Samundari (Punjab) by the young Muslim Arif Gujjar, who wanted to marry and convert her. She has been defined the “Maria Goretti of Pakistan”. The family has forgiven the murderer.
– Anna, a 12-year-old Christian girl, a scavenger in Shahdra, a small town near Lahore (Punjab) was kidnapped and raped repeatedly for eight months by a gang of Islamic militants. The traumatized child was eventually forced to convert and marry a Muslim.
– Four Christian children and their mother were killed in 2011 near Jehlum (Punjab) because they refused to leave a village which was predominantly Muslim.
– Farah Hatim, a Catholic girl, was kidnapped and forced to marry and convert to Islam in the city of Rahim Yar Khan, in Punjab. Some non-governmental Organizations in Pakistan and outside the country officially brought the case to the United Nations.
– Rebbecca Masih and Saima Masih, are two Christian girls who were kidnapped by a group of Muslims in the district of Jhung, in Faisalabad (in Punjab). They were forced to convert to Islam and were then married to a rich local businessman.
– Kiran George, a girl from Sheikhupura (Lahore), died on March 10, 2010 from burns sustained over most of her body after a local Muslim police officer named Ahmad Raza poured gasoline on her and lit her on fire. The young woman had been enslaved by a woman, Sama, a dealer of youth to be sold as prostitutes or slaves to wealthy Muslim families.
These children are just the tip of the iceberg as far as the slaughter of Christians in Pakistan is concerned, with most cases involving the blasphemy law which makes insults to the Prophet Muhammad punishable by death. Burning a sacred text leads to life imprisonment.
More fair-minded politicians have tried to no avail to have the law repealed. The latest crusader is Allama Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, who says that if Rimsha is found to be innocent, her accusers should face justice.
“We demand an impartial and thorough investigation into the case. Strict action should be taken against all those accusing the girl if she is found innocent,” Ashrafi told a Pakistani newspaper.
“The government should make this case an example so that nobody will dare misuse the blasphemy law in future.”
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