The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Pakistani Minorities has launched a new report in Westminster today entitled Abductions, Forced Conversions, and Forced Marriages of Religious Minority Women and Girls in Pakistan.
The cases of Christian or Hindu girls between the ages of 12 – 25, abducted, converted to Islam and immediately married to their abductors have been increasing steadily in recent years in Pakistan. Provisional estimates in a study ‘Forced Marriages and Forced Conversions in the Christian Community of Pakistan’ suggest that up to 1,000 religious minority women and girls face this fate every year. However, the true numbers may never be ascertained. All these cases meet with impunity. Usually, after the abduction, the victim’s relatives plead with the local police to file a First Information Report (FIR). The police are usually reluctant or fail to investigate the cases properly. Instead, after a few days, the parents are often handed the conversion certificate, as well as the marriage certificate, and told that the girl has voluntarily converted to Islam, married and is living with her new ‘husband’.
In court, the issue is often portrayed as a religious issue and the perpetrators’ lawyers appeal to the religious sentiments of judges, by suggesting that the girls have voluntarily converted to Islam. In the majority of these cases, the decisions will go in favour of the perpetrators and the girls lose all contact with their families.
One reason why this practice is flourishing in the Sindh and Punjab provinces is because of the many actors playing their part in keeping the practice alive. For example, the clerics play a key role in the conversion process and marrying the victims and the perpetrators within a short time after. In the volatile politics of Pakistan any efforts to apprehend any religious leader can be construed as an attack on Islam. For this reason, such practices of the clerics are tolerated by government officials and politicians, as confrontation could bring about further conflict amongst the wider public.
The Inquiry revealed that the issue of abductions, forced conversions, and forced marriages of religious minority women and girls is a serious issue for the vulnerable and marginalised Hindu and Christian communities in Pakistan. Also, based on the available evidence, the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan so far have failed to take action to address the issue and protect its most vulnerable citizens.
The UK and Pakistan have a special relationship that should be used to speak for the voiceless Christian and Hindu religious minority women and girls. Pakistan has been the highest recipient of the UK Aid for the past few years.
Also, education for girls is the UK’s international priority. Yet abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages issue represents a grave violation of the human rights of minority girls, it reduces any chance they might have of studying and breaking out of the vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty, and early marriages. Addressing this issue is a crucial step, to keep these girls in school and so ensure a better future for them.