By Mark Ellis
The world reacted in horror and revulsion at the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in April. But twice as many Coptic Christian schoolgirls in Egypt have vanished slowly, one-by-one, in kidnappings that remain unsolved.
Since January, 2011 through March, 2014, over 550 Christian girls were kidnapped by Muslim men and forced to convert and marry their abductors, often after suffering violence at the hands of their kidnappers, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD).
Often before these forced marriages, the traditional cross the Coptic minority tattooes on their wrists was erased with acid, according to Terrasanta, a Catholic news service.
The abductions have been going on for many years, with cases documented during Anwar Sadat’s government (1970-1981). After the fall of Hosni Mubarak, a dramatic surge began.
“Before the revolution five or six girls would disappear each month. Now the average is 15,” notes Ebram Louis, the founder of AVAFD in Egypt.
When girls and women are abducted from 14 to 40 years old, 40% are raped and subsequently forced to marry their captors after their conversion to Islam, according to AVAFD.
The organization says some of the victims are coerced by young Muslims, who first gain their trust, then force them to convert and marry.
Many who have studied this phenomenon believe there is an organized network behind the kidnappings. Some maintain there are Islamic cells dedicated exclusively to the abduction of Coptic Christian girls and young women.
Nadia Makram was kidnapped in 2011 at age 14. Nadia’s parents knew the name of her kidnapper — Ahmed Hammad, a 48-year old Muslim — and they quickly turned to the police for help. Sadly, the man was not arrested, because the police refused to get involved.
According to numerous episodes studied by AVAFD, the police often refuse to search for missing girls, claiming they ran away voluntarily from their parents’ home. Often, if the young girls are located, they are accompanied to the police station by their new Muslim “relatives”, who exert an intimidating presence during questioning. Often, under coercion the girls will say they voluntarily left the family home, according to Terrasanta.
While Egyptian law forbids the marriage and conversion of minors, the law was overlooked in Nadia’s case. Nadia was only fifteen when she gave birth to her first child, and Egyptian authorities closed the case with an acquittal of the husband. For the man, it was sufficient to show a marriage certificate attesting to the ‘legal’ union with his underage wife.