Earlier this month, a 15-year-old Coptic Christian girl disappeared off the streets of Cairo, Egypt; her mobile phone was turned off at the same time. Randa Fathallah Faleh was returning home alone, after helping another female member of her family move. Her family instantly reported her disappearance to police and even urged the Minister of the Interior to investigate.
A few days later, around August 10, online Arabic websites reported that the underage girl had happily been returned family—which turned out to be false. In fact, Randa’s father and uncle were at and pestering the police station the same day this false rumor began. A family friend responded by posting on social media the following message: “People, Randa has not been returned. Please stop promoting false rumors. Randa must be returned! Please copy and paste.”
Randa likely now joins countless Coptic Christian girls that have over the years been abducted, sexually abused, and forced to convert to Islam and marry their kidnappers. If she were to be “found” and returned to her family, no legal action will, per precedent, ever be taken against the abductors, even though Egyptian law is extremely harsh in such matters (up to 25 years imprisonment for abducting a minor female). But such is the reality of Egypt’s justice system when it comes to Copts.
This phenomenon is well discussed in a September 10, 2020 report by Coptic Solidary (CS). Fifteen-pages long and titled “‘Jihad of the Womb’: Trafficking of Coptic Women & Girls in Egypt,” it documents “the widespread practice of abduction and trafficking” and estimates that there have been “about 500 cases within the last decade, where elements of coercion were used that amount to trafficking,” according to the UN’s own definitions, particularly per its “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children.”
According to the CS report:
The capture and disappearance of Coptic women and minor girls is a bane of the Coptic community in Egypt, yet little has been done to address this scourge by the Egyptian or foreign governments, NGOs, or international bodies. According to a priest in the Minya Governorate, at least 15 girls go missing every year in his area alone. His own daughter was nearly kidnapped had he not been able to intervene in time.
The report offers 13 separate case studies. Victims range from teenage girls, to newly-wed and pregnant young women, to married women with children. Most of the 500 disappeared in one of two ways: either they were publicly kidnapped, often by being forced into a car while traveling to school, church, or work; or—and this is especially true for teenage girls—they were lured into relationships with young Muslim men who promised them the world, until, that is, it was too late.
Why so many officials help in the abduction and forced conversion of Christian girls and women—or at the very least look the other way—“can be traced back to the second article of the Egyptian Constitution.” Its states that “Islam is the religion of the State and Arabic is its official language. The principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.”
Although the entire CS report is worth reading to understand the totality of this phenomenon—which is plagues several other Muslim nations, most notoriously Pakistan—perhaps its most salient paragraph follows:
The rampant trafficking of Coptic women and girls is a direct violation of their most basic rights to safety, freedom of movement, and freedom of conscience and belief. The crimes committed against these women must be urgently addressed by the Egyptian government, ending impunity for kidnappers, their accomplices, and police who refuse to perform their duties. Women who disappear and are never recovered must live an unimaginable nightmare. The large majority of these women are never reunited with their families or friends because police response in Egypt is dismissive and corrupt. There are countless families who report that police have either been complicit in the kidnapping or at the very least bribed into silence. If there is any hope for Coptic women in Egypt to have a merely ‘primitive’ level of equality, these incidents of trafficking must cease, and the perpetrators must be held accountable by the judiciary.