LAHORE, Pakistan: The human rights groups have expressed their worry regarding the lack of legal and administrative safeguards to protect underage minority girls against forced conversions in Pakistan.
They have called upon the government to take stern action against the perpetrators and their abettors for committing crimes involving forgery, sexual violence, child marriages, and forced conversions.
They referred to a case that surfaced this month where a 12-years old girl Maha Asif was abducted by Muhammad Akmal from her home in Lahore, and was taken to Hasilpur, where she was made to convert, and contract marriage against her free will. The perpetrators forced and threatened her to sign documents otherwise, her denial will put the lives of her brothers in danger.
Similarly, Saba Nadeem, aged 15, was abducted, forcibly converted and married off, by Yasir Hussain, aged 45, in Faisalabad this May. It is encouraging that the police lodged FIR under section 365-B, recovered both the girls from the captivity of their aggressors, and helped reunite them with their families. However, the aggressors are not brought to justice as of yet, which is sad.
They referred to another case with a different fate where Chashman Kanwal, aged 14, was abducted from Faisalabad, and taken to Sahiwal where she was forcibly converted and married off to Muhammad Usman in July 2021. Although she was proven underage, police added sections of the child marriage and unlawful marriage and Section 493-A in PPC in the FIR which is a crime punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term that may extend to twenty-five years and shall also be liable to fine. However, it is lamentable that the perpetrator is at large, and Chashman is yet to be handed over to her parents.
The Chairperson of the Voice for Justice Joseph Jansen said that unfortunately the perpetrators enjoy impunity against their crimes under the guise of faith conversion and marriage, though several survivors of the forced conversions who managed to reunite with their families, are awaiting justice for what they have faced in captivity.
Joseph Jansen demanded that the government must introduce comprehensive law against forced faith conversions in conformity with international human rights standards, apprehend and bring to justice the perpetrators and abettors involved.
Afzal Bhatti observed that the lack of enforcement of existing domestic laws remains a key impediment to preventing such practices and in allowing perpetrators to escape justice. He demanded that the government must apply all protections in existing laws to prevent the miscarriage of justice, and ensure that minorities are not discriminated against, at the investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial levels in cases involving abduction, forced conversion, child marriage, and sexual violence.
Carol Nadeem noted that the government has not benefitted from the progressive rulings given by the Lahore High Court (LHC), the Islamabad High Court (IHC), and the Federal Shariat Court regarding faith conversions and legal minimum age for marriage, to strengthen consensus for legislation to protect minority girls from exploitation by influential groups and criminal elements. Hence, the human rights violations linked to forced conversions are continuing unchecked.
A human rights activist Ashiknaz Khokhar observed that the absence of an adequate institutional response is encouraging the forced conversions and forced marriages of minority girls.
Ashiknaz Khokhar demanded that the allegations of forced conversion and forced marriage must be independently, impartially, and promptly investigated with a view to apprehending the perpetrators to bring them to justice in proceedings that guarantee the right to a fair trial, and ensure that victims have the right to access to justice and to an effective remedy.