Teenage girl’s incarceration and forced marriage highlights persecution in Colombia’s indigenous communities

Soraya*, 17, an indigenous Christian girl in Colombia, is being held against her will by her indigenous community in a bid to force her to marry a member of her community who does not share her Christian faith.

In Colombia, Christians from indigenous groups are considered to be betraying their traditional beliefs and their community.

Christian girls are regularly forced to marry men from their community as a means of ensuring any resulting children are not Christian children. Marriage also prevents the girls from having access to their Christian community and teachings and is therefore effective at stifling faith.

Laws passed in the 1990s gave autonomy and independence to indigenous peoples to create and manage their own policies. This has given a legitimate legal framework that supports and encourages violent and discriminatory behaviour towards their Christian members. Women often bear the brunt of this as they are seen as an economic burden and married off young.

Several years ago Soraya was summoned to a hearing in front of her traditional indigenous authorities who tried to coerce her to renounce her Christian faith in public.

Currently Soraya is being held in her community in the mountains, isolated and unable to communicate.

According to research by Open Doors, Christian women are doubly vulnerable to persecution, targeted for both their faith and gender. Often their suffering is unseen. Ignored by the world around them. Through the campaign See. Change. Open Doors is ensuring women are treated with care and dignity, and seen when isolated.

Colombia is number 47 on the Open Doors World Watch List.

Christians from indigenous groups often face persecution for ‘betraying’ the traditional beliefs of their communities. They may face imprisonment, physical abuse, have their property confiscated, or be denied access to services such as education and health care.

Criminal groups still control entire regions of Colombia. Christians and church leaders who stand against their activities, try to prevent young people from joining their ranks or share the gospel with gang members are seen as a threat to these groups. They suffer harassment, abduction, and extortion – some are even killed.

*Name changed to protect identity

Erin James

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