Pakistan: Rights Activists stress to curb forced conversion, underage marriages

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The National Minority Alliance of Pakistan (NMAP) and Voice for Justice (VFJ) collaboratively organized a press conference at the Faisalabad Press Club to highlight the ordeal of underage girls of religious minorities who fall victim to forced conversion and forced marriages, calling for stern action against the culprits to ensure the protection and safety of minor girls, The Friday Times reported.

While addressing the presser on Tuesday, NMAP Chairman Lala Robin Daniel said that the system has collapsed and minor girls’ respect and dignity are at stake due to a lack of implementation of laws and malpractices.

He emphasized that laws are strict when it comes to the abduction of minor girls with the intent to rape them, but unfortunately, the victims don’t get justice due to flaws in the system, and the culprits remain free despite committing a heinous crime. He urged that the judiciary and police must play an effective role in providing relief to the victims.

The Friday Times is Pakistan’s first independent weekly, founded in 1989. In 2021, the publication went into collaboration with the digital news platform Naya Daur Media to publish under a daily cycle.

Voice for Justice Coordinator Ribqa Navesh highlighted that an underage Christian girl named Hoorab was abducted, forcedly converted, and raped. She demanded swift justice for the victim, The Friday Times reported.

“We are raising our voices and making efforts against forced conversion and underage marriages of girls belonging to religious minorities, but so far no culprit has been sentenced,” she regretted.

She lamented, “Our judicial system stands at 138th worldwide.”

Meanwhile, minority rights activist Pervez Iqbal Bhatti said that Shahbaz, the father of victim Hoorab, was killed in a minor dispute and the attackers are still at large.

He lauded the professionalism and dedication of former CPO of Faisalabad, Ali Raza, who played a crucial role in the recovery of an abducted minor girl. He said that the CPO took notice of the murder of Shahbaz and ordered the arrest of the culprits within seven days, The Friday Times reported.

“But no one is paying heed to the victimized family after his transfer,” he mentioned.

Voice for Justice Chairperson Joseph Jansen urged the Pakistani authorities to adopt and enforce legislation prohibiting coercion, faith conversions, forced child marriages, kidnapping, trafficking, and upholding women’s and children’s rights.

He demanded that laws be formulated to ensure that the minimum marriageable age is set at 18 years for both boys and girls and that the marriage of underage children is declared legally impermissible.

As an interim measure, a suspension should be placed on the magistrates’ validation of any marriages associated with faith conversions, he stressed.

The reason minority girls and women are targeted and converted to Islam is that Islamic laws allow girls to marry when they reach puberty, which can happen as soon as 12 years old, and perpetrators use this way to escape justice, The Friday Times reported.

He mentioned that few police officers intentionally affect the investigation and provide relief to the culprit. The abductors should be sentenced for their crimes to set an example, Jansen said.

Rights activist Tahira Anjum said that discrimination in providing justice to minorities would not be tolerated anymore. She added that only the provision of justice can eradicate the complaint of discrimination.

Minority rights activist Ibrar Sahotra said that Nishatabad police station Investigation Officer Ghulam Sarwar is continuously facilitating the abductors of Hoorab and the killers of her father Shahbaz.

He stated that they are not staging any protest demonstrations due to the current political crisis in the country, adding that the facilitation of culprits should be stopped immediately.

The speakers presented a few recommendations aimed at curbing the forced conversion of minority girls and their coerced marriages.

As per recommendations, cases of abduction and forced marriage should be registered under the proper sections of the Pakistan Penal Code. An investigation should be conducted by an officer with the rank of subinspector, The Friday Times reported.

The speakers recommended that sessions be organized to brief police officers about amendments to the laws related to the crime. The documents provided by the victim’s parents to confirm the age should be considered authentic, they added.

They said that special Nikkah registrars should be designated to perform Nikkah for couples when there is a girl from another religion. 

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