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Roughly 1,000 girls in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam each year, and the crisis has become worse as a result of COVID, according to a recent report from the U.S. State Department.

The U.S. State Department this month declared Pakistan “a country of particular concern” for violations of religious freedoms — a designation the Pakistani government rejects. The declaration was based in part on an appraisal by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that underage girls in the minority Hindu, Christian, and Sikh communities were “kidnapped for forced conversion to Islam… forcibly married and subjected to rape.”

The stories are horrific even beyond those details in part because the kidnappings occur with the help of relatives or acquaintances, sometimes looking to make some quick cash.

One activist, Jibran Nasir, called the network a “mafia” that preys on non-Muslim girls because they are the most vulnerable and the easiest targets “for older men with pedophilia urges.”

The goal is to secure virginal brides rather than to seek new converts to Islam. Minorities make up just 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 220 million people and often are the target of discrimination. Those who report forced conversions, for example, can be targeted with charges of blasphemy.

Needless to say, if someone is forced into conversion, it only shows the insecurity of that religion. In this case, Islam appears to be a means to an end rather than the end itself. The girls needs to become Muslim so that men can control and abuse them. Religion is the tool they use to convince themselves and government officials that their actions are legitimate. And the Pakistani government isn’t doing enough to punish the behavior.

The USCIRF recommends that the government demand Pakistan release “blasphemy prisoners,” repeal blasphemy laws, “address extremist rhetoric,” call on Pakistan to create a commission for minority rights, and using the State Department to help increase security for people in “at-risk religious communities.” The most consequential suggestion is for the U.S. government to impose sanctions on the country:

… Impose targeted sanctions on Pakistani government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations.

We can’t count on the current Republican administration to take this seriously, but in a few weeks, let’s hope the new one will.

Also, while it may be irrelevant to this report, it should be noted that one of the current leaders of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is Christian hate-group leader Tony Perkins, who once said religious liberties don’t apply to Muslims. Perkins was the former chair of this group — and he’s listed as the chair in the report — though he’s currently the vice-chair.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.