Minorities in Pakistan, including Hindus and Christians, continue to live in fear as incidents of forced conversions of girls are on the rise in the country, especially in Sindh, The Friday Times reported.
In March 2022, an 18-year-old Hindu girl was killed for resisting abduction, forced marriage and conversion of religion in Sindh’s Sukkur district. Six months later, a 14-year-old girl was abducted, raped and converted to Islam, as per the news report.
The FIR was lodged after the court intervened. Later, the police recovered her and performed a medical test to determine her age. She was found to be minor and was sent to Dar-ul-Aman, The Friday Times reported.
In December 2022, a Hindu man named Laloo Kachhi in Sindh was beaten up by a Muslim mob as he tried to resist the abductors of his sister, Laali. Later, Kachhi succumbed to his wounds in the hospital. Cases of abduction, rape and forced conversions are routinely reported from Sindh and Punjab.
A recent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report, titled ‘A Breach of Faith: Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2021-22, states that around 60 cases of forced conversion were reported in the local media, of which 70 per cent were girls below the age of 18, as per the news report.
The HRCP reported 21 cases of alleged forced conversion from Sindh in 2022. The HRCP said forced conversions occur disproportionately among young girls from low-income families in the Hindu and Christian communities, their vulnerability compounded by their gender and class.
“The bulk of forced conversions occur in Punjab and Sindh, which account for a larger population of Hindu and Christian households. Many such cases follow a similar pattern — a minor girl from either the Hindu or Christian community is abducted and coerced into converting to Islam, often followed by a marriage sans consent to her assailant or captor,” the HRCP report said as per The Friday Times report.
Faqir Shiva Kachhi, a minority rights activist, said that more than 500 cases of abduction and forced conversions were reported in 2022. Kachhi further said that the police did not lodge a “missing” complaint on time in the Chanda Maharaj case. He said that they had to urge the police to file a case.
“There is dual judiciary system for minority and majority. When a Muslim under-aged girl can get permission from the court to go with her parent then why can’t a Hindu minor girl go with her parents? Why are they sent to Dar-ul-Aman,” he said as per The Friday Times report.
In October 2021, the federal parliamentary committee scrapped a proposed bill that would have criminalised forced conversions by proposing up to 10 years of imprisonment, as per The Friday Times report. In 2016, the Sindh province passed a law declaring forced conversion a punishable offence carrying a life sentence. However, the province’s governor refused to ratify the legislation, as per the news report.
The Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2013 bans the marriage of any child under the age of 18 years and penalises the person who solemnises the marriage and the parents or guardians concerned. According to legal experts, the act has not been implemented properly and child cases are rising day by day due to the negligence of the government, as per the news report.
In January this year, Human rights experts raised alarm at the rise in abductions of girls as young as 13 in Pakistan, who are forced to marry and convert their religion, as per the news report. They called on the government to take “immediate steps” to stop and investigate these acts objectively and as per the domestic legislation and international human rights commitments, The Friday Times reported citing UN news.
The group of nearly a dozen independent experts and special rapporteurs said that Pakistan’s courts enable the perpetrators by accepting “fraudulent evidence” from them, regarding the age of the victims and their willingness to marry and convert their religion. Experts revealed that the girls and women or their families are threatened with violence for such marriages and religious conversions.