ASIA/PAKISTAN – Forced religious conversion: may the government accept the appeal submitted to the UN

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ASIA/PAKISTAN — Forced religious conversion: can the government accept UN appeal

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides). Several civil society organizations, Hindus, Christians, and Christian communities in Pakistan have praised the UN Human Rights Council’s recent statement on the phenomenon of forced religious conversion, abduction, and forced marriage of girls from religious minorities, particularly Christians and Hindus. In a Geneva appeal, a group of UN Special Rapporteur and Special Reporteurs, including the UN Specialist Rapporteur against Violence Against Women and UN Special Rapporteur to Freedom of Religion and Belief, expressed concern over the increasing number of cases of forced religious converts among underage girls and young women of religious minorities in Pakistan. They urged for “immediate actions to address these cases and justice be given to the victims.”
The group reported on the rise in cases of girls being abducted and forced to marry or convert to Islam in Pakistan. These practices are often approved by Pakistani courts who accept “fraudulent evidence” about victims’ ages and their alleged willingness for marriage and conversion to Islam. The appeal points out that courts sometimes “use inappropriate interpretations of religious laws to justify victims staying with abusers”, while police refuses to register reports about abductions and dismiss them as “love marriages”.
“Kidnappers force their victim to sign false documents indicating their legal age to marry, as well as their freedom to marry and convert according to their will.” These documents are cited as proof of no crime by the police, but they are fake or extorted documents that contain psychological and physical violence. “It’s imperative that all victims regardless of their religious affiliation have access to justice, equal protection under the law”, states a UN-submitted text. It urges Pakistani authorities to enforce the legislation against forced conversions, forced early marriages, and human trafficking and to adhere to Pakistan’s international human rights obligations to protect women and children’s rights.
Aftab Alexander Moughal, a Catholic intellectual and former executive secretary of the National “Justice and Peace” Commission of the Catholic Bishops of Pakistan writes to Fides: “In the recent years, many Christian and Hindu family have lost their daughters. These girls were forced to convert to Islam and then forcibly married to their captors. These girls are mostly from poor families. The powerful kidnappers have the support of law enforcement and conservative religious leaders.
These victims are often then subject to domestic violence. This atrocity continues to be perpetuated by the system’s complicity. Today, the UN’s statement notes that the multiple violations of Pakistan’s domestic law as well as its international obligations were brought to light.
“Neither the government nor any other state institution, nor judiciary are dealing to the phenomenon for fear from powerful Islamic religious lobbyists,” is the point. For fear of widespread protests the Sindh Provincial Governor has yet to sign a bill prohibiting conversion of anyone under 18 years old, despite the fact that the bill was passed in 2016 by the Sindh Provincial Assembly. The measure also includes severe penalties for those who force religious conversions.
“Today, Mughal Hopes – We call for easier access to justice and support for victims’ families. The current government should listen to the concerns expressed by the international communities and protect vulnerable segments of society that are being exploited under the cover of religion by violent men.
Reports from Pakistan continue to be made about such cases by the media. A Hindu woman was raped and abducted in Sindh province a few days ago after she refused to convert.
The phenomenon of forced conversions in Sindh and abductions was also addressed in the documentary film “The Losing Side”, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022. It won an Oscar in the category “Best Human Rights Film”. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 26/1/2023)



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