Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Pakistan – UN Experts Urge Action on Abductions, Forced Religious Conversions, and Child Marriages 

Washington, DC – UN experts expressed alarm at the reported rise in abductions, forced marriages, and conversions of underage girls and young women from religious minorities in Pakistan and called for immediate efforts to curtail the practices and ensure justice for victims.

“We urge the Government to take immediate steps to prevent and thoroughly investigate these acts objectively and in line with domestic legislation and international human rights commitments. Perpetrators must be held fully accountable,” the experts said.

Reports state that girls as young as 13 are being kidnapped from their families, trafficked to locations far from their homes, made to marry men sometimes twice their age, and coerced to convert to Islam, violating international human rights law, the experts said. “We are very concerned that such marriages and conversions take place under threat of violence to these girls and women or their families.”

Nearly 1,000 girls from religious minorities (most of them minors) are forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan each year, and forcibly married to much older men.

As reported in Dawn, a parliamentary committee in Pakistan rejected an anti-forced conversion bill in 2021, with Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri saying the “environment is unfavorable” for formulating a law against forced conversions. Parliament members argued that imposing an age limit for conversions by non-Muslims “goes against Islam and the Constitution of Pakistan.”

Referencing Pakistan’s previous attempts to pass legislation prohibiting forced conversions and protecting religious minorities, the experts lamented the ongoing lack of access to justice for victims and their families. Reports indicate these so-called marriages and conversions take place with the involvement of religious authorities and the collaboration of security forces and the justice system.

These reports also suggest that the judicial system enables these offenses by accepting fraudulent evidence from perpetrators regarding victims’ adulthood, voluntary marriage, and conversion. On occasion, courts have misused religious law interpretations to justify victims remaining with their abusers.

“Family members say that victims’ complaints are rarely taken seriously by the police, either refusing to register these reports or arguing that no crime has been committed by labeling these abductions as “love marriages,” the experts said.

“Abductors force their victims to sign documents which falsely attest to their being of legal age for marriage as well as marrying and converting of free will. These documents are cited by the police as evidence that no crime has occurred.”

The experts said it was critical that all victims, regardless of religious background, have access to justice and equal protection under the law.

“Pakistani authorities must adopt and enforce legislation prohibiting forced conversions, forced and child marriages, kidnapping, and trafficking, and abide by their international human rights commitments to combat slavery and human trafficking and uphold the rights of women and children,” they said.

Last year a young Sikh girl, Dina Kaur was abducted at gunpoint from her home in Buner district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, raped, forcibly converted to Islam, and married to her rapist. Dina’s family was made to run from pillar to post, but the authorities did not redress their grievances and given false assurances while Dina was undergoing untold suffering.

Sikh community Pakistan
Sikh community in Buner, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, demonstrating for justice for Dina Kaur.

Dina’s family and the Sikh community demonstrated against the high-handedness and cruelty against them by the authorities in Pakistan. “All the authorities have misled us in Pakistan. Our demonstration will continue until we get justice. Our daughter has been kidnapped, tortured, and forced to sign a false affidavit and forced nikahnama (Muslim marriage contract).” Community leaders also appealed to their Pakhtoon brethren to join them in their fight for justice, adding, “If they do not stand by us in this hour of struggle for justice, I am afraid we have no place in this country.”

US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2022 Annual Report states, “Abduction, forced conversion to Islam, rape, and forced marriage remained imminent threats for religious minority women and children, particularly from the Christian, Hindu, and Sikh faiths” in Pakistan.



Author profile
Pia Sherman

Pia Sherman is a freelance writer. Views expressed are solely of the author.

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