Christians in Pakistan
Christians make up about 1.5% of Pakistan’s population. They live in ghettoized communities and are often relegated to menial jobs. They make up 80% of the nation’s sanitation workers and are regularly exposed to unsafe working conditions. They also work in brick kilns, where they are often subject to indentured servitude that resembles slavery.
1.5% of the population
Despite being less than two percent of the nation’s population, Christians are often overlooked in Pakistan. They live in ghettoized communities and face discrimination and persecution. They suffer from lower wages in the sanitation sector than their Muslim co-workers and are prone to being targeted by extremists for accusations of blasphemy, which can result in mob violence and even death.
Christian women and girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault, rape and forced marriage. Their homes are subject to raids and snooping by police and government agents in search of illegal material such as the Bible, allegedly used for illicit or immoral purposes.
In spite of their comparatively small numbers, the Pakistani Christian community has made significant contributions to social sector development through the building of schools and hospitals. But, like other religious minorities, they have suffered from discrimination and victimization, including nationalization of their property under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1971–77). Pakistan is ranked eighth on Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List for nations where Christians experience the most severe persecution.
2. 2% of the population
Pakistan is a largely Muslim country with a small Christian minority, mostly in the southern city of Karachi and in the Punjab heartland. Christians are mainly Protestant or Catholic, with some Eastern Orthodox churches in the country. Christians in Pakistan co-exist amiably with Muslims, although mob violence against them sometimes breaks out over accusations of blasphemy against Islam, which can lead to imprisonment or even death.
Many Christians live in impoverished communities, known as sweeper colonies, where they are employed as domestic workers and sanitation workers. These jobs are often dangerous, and Christian homes and churches are regularly attacked by crowds claiming to be defending the faith.
Gloria researched the churches in these communities and found that they struggle with institutional injustices and cultural bias. She interviewed pastors and leaders, conducted 50 site visits, and held dozens of focus groups with church members. She also reviewed church documents, including ten years of data on mission engagement.
3. 4% of the population
Despite Pakistan’s reputation for religious intolerance, Gloria Calib finds that Christians there are remarkably resilient and determined. She works with Christian communities across the country, including those who face violence and discrimination. Her research has examined their theology of missions, actual missional practices, and perceived restrictions to mission engagement.
Those restrictions range from economic to cultural, and they affect Christians at all levels of society. Christians are disproportionately poor in Pakistan and many work in low-paying jobs. For example, about 80% of Pakistan’s sanitation workers are Christian, and they perform dangerous maintenance on sewer lines that are prone to clogs. Likewise, Christian women are at high risk of kidnapping and forced marriage.
The community also experiences severe persecution under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which carry the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting Islam. These laws have led to violent mob attacks and the destruction of homes. They have also prevented Christians from legally separating from their spouses through divorce.
4. 5% of the population
In the years since Pakistan gained independence from Britain, the country’s military dictatorships have eroded Christians’ economic and political power. Today, opportunities remain few and far between for Pakistani Christians.
In 2021, seven Christian individuals were imprisoned under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. These laws punish anyone who insults Islam with the death penalty.
Christians have also been victims of violence and exploitation at the hands of Muslims, according to a report by the Center for Law and Justice. Angry mobs have beaten and destroyed buildings, including churches, homes and schools.
Moreover, many Christians are forced into sanitation work, which is hazardous and poorly paid. As a result, generations of families are trapped in this form of modern slavery. For instance, one BPCA representative reported that 660 Christian and minority families are kept in bonded labor at brick-making kilns — they take out a loan to cover their daily needs but then work for years without ever getting the money back (BPCA 14 Dec. 2012).