Pakistani Christian Teens Could Face Death Penalty Under Stricter Blasphemy Laws

Decades ago, converts thought the country would be a refuge from the caste system. Today, they risk criminal charges and remain largely relegated to sanitation jobs.

Two Christian Pakistani teenagers, one 18 and another 14, were arrested in their homes in Lahore in May 2023 on charges of blasphemy after a policeman claimed he heard them being disrespectful of the Prophet Muhammad.

Among Muslim-majority countries, Pakistan has the strictest blasphemy laws. People jailed under these laws risk a sentence of life in prison and worse still, even death. Christians and other religious minorities make up a mere 4 percent of Pakistan’s population, but they account for about half of blasphemy charges.

As if navigating blasphemy laws weren’t hardship enough, Christians who live in major cities like Lahore are often relegated to poorly paid and hazardous jobs like sanitation work. The nation of Pakistan was created 76 years ago but during this time the lives of its Christian citizens have grown ever more difficult.

As a scholar of world religions, I have studied how the evolution of a hardline version of Islam in Pakistan has come to shape this country’s national identity and contributed to the persecution of its Christian minority.

Hindu converts to Christianity

Many Christians in Pakistan trace their religious affiliation to the activities of missionary societies during the 19th and early 20th centuries in the Punjab region of what was then British-ruled India.

Early evangelization efforts by both the British and Americans in Hindu-majority India focused on upper-caste Hindus. The evangelizers assumed that these elites would use their influence to convert members of the lower castes. However, this approach led to few converts.

The caste system is a tiered socioeconomic system that consigns people to a particular group, or caste. In Hinduism, this system is part of its religious worldview. …

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