There is nationwide, systemic persecution of Christians in Pakistan, and children are not excluded. They face social exclusion, lack of education, homelessness, forced labour, abduction, forced conversion, forced marriage, abuse and the loss of their parents.
In one of the worst ever cases, three children, the eldest child just six at the time, became orphans when their parents were accused of desecrating the Koran. In 2014, Shama and Shehzad were beaten unconscious and thrown into an open furnace shaft by an angry mob.
A case this year highlights the very real danger for girls. A 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl was abducted at gunpoint in Faisalabad in April, forcibly converted to Islam and forced to marry her abductor – an influential man in the region. In August, the Lahore High Court ruled that she had willingly converted to Islam and married her kidnapper, and that she should stay in her abductor’s custody and be a “good wife”.
No less extreme is the enslavement of children, some as young as five. Every day in Pakistan’s brick kilns, many Christian children, whose parents are working as bonded labourers, are denied an education and forced to make bricks.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there is a high mortality rate among children working at brick kilns. They are also in danger of losing their eyesight. Approximately one in 20 families living in brick kilns have children who have lost their eyesight, most likely due to dust particles as well as flying brick fragments.
Persecution also hinders the education of Christian children. The Pakistani government provides very little funding for education, and Christian-majority communities frequently do not have government schools.
For those Christian children who are fortunate enough to have access to public education, school is often a place of persecution. Most of the students are Muslim. Christian students are often forced to eat at separate tables. At one school, a Muslim teacher forced a Christian girl to stand in the hot sun until she fainted. The girl was being punished for wearing a cross necklace to school.
Sofia, a Christian girl, attended a Pakistani public school where the majority of students were Muslim. When she was in sixth grade some girls invited her to become a Muslim. They told her what Muslims believe, but she did not think any of it was true. They told her, “You must accept Islam,” and she refused. When the girls told the teacher what had transpired, he called Sofia to the front of the class and beat her hands with a rod.
There are many Islamic schools, called madrassas, throughout Pakistan. The students at these schools are fed and housed, so even the poorest Muslim children have access to an adequate education. There are some private Christian and church-run schools too. They usually have very low fees yet are still out of reach for many Christian families. Additionally, due to limited resources, it is difficult for these schools to attract
Sadly though, when the poorest of Christians find a way to send their children to school, in an effort to break the poverty cycle, it can be in vain. As the children finish school and enter the job market, the systemic persecution relegates them to the most menial jobs. They become the sewer cleaners, street sweepers and garbage collectors.
Yet, with all they face, believers remain faithful to the Gospel. Christian children, regardless of what their lives may bring, have been given the greatest gift of all: the gift of light, in an often dark world.
One large extended family in Faisalabad has only one literate member. A young mother named Shazia is the only one who can read. Her husband is illiterate is a sanitation worker. The family is poor but feel blessed in so
Every morning they have a prayer meeting and Shazia reads from the Bible. Every Sunday, the family and some neighbours gather for worship. The young children recite Bible verses by heart. Shazia and her sisters-in-law say the Lord has blessed them with the gift of children, and their every need is fulfilled.
In another family, Maria, who is 11 years old, attends school. Recently, through a VOM-funded project, she received her first Bible. She enjoys reading about the life and teachings of Jesus. She shares with other children in her family and neighbourhood about Jesus and the love of God. Maria loves attending Sunday school and has learnt Bible verses by heart. Psalm 23, The Lord is my shepherd, is her favourite. She recently told a VOM project partner, “I always feel the joy, hope and love of Jesus.”
VOM Australia provides support for families and communities affected by persecution in Pakistan. The work includes education and medical treatment, as well as food and Bible distribution.
Please pray the Lord will strengthen His children in Pakistan. Ask Him to protect the vulnerable.
This year, we are planning to distribute Christmas Care packs in six countries, including Pakistan.
If you would like more information on our Christmas Care project visit vom.com.au/christmascare