26 October 2016
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    » 02/26/2016, 16.22


    Christian women in Pakistan forcibly converted to Islam and married off to their kidnappers

    Shafique Khokhar

    Tahira, 21, and Reema Bibi, 20, were abducted near their home last December. The Muslim men who took them, raped them and forcibly married them, and then kept them segregated. At least 1,000 Christian women are forcibly converted in Pakistan each year. If they escape, the police arrests a family member.

    Lahore (AsiaNews) – Tahira, 21, and Reema Bibi, 20, are two Pakistani Christian women who were abducted on 2 December 2015 from near their home in Sargodha (Punjab) as they returned together from work.

    The two Muslim men who took the two young women, raped them, and then forcibly married them. Afterwards, they kept them segregated in their Islamabad home, this according to British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), an activist group that works for religious freedom in Pakistan, and monitors the continuous violations against minorities, especially women, which the government does not punish.

    Forced marriages have been a scourge in the Muslim nation for years, one that does not seem close to any resolution. The case of Tahira and Reema is emblematic. On 11 February, Tahira managed to escape, but her Muslim "husband" filed a complaint with police, who immediately arrested six members of her family. The relatives were released thanks to pressure from human rights groups, but the authorities have ordered the family to return Tahira to her "husband."

    The BPCA reported a similar case a few days ago. A Christian woman was seized and forced to marry the Muslim owner of the house where she worked as a cleaner. After she managed to escape thanks to a colleague, the police ordered her family to hand her over to the authorities; otherwise, they would arrest a relative.

    According to a report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan, at least 1,000 Pakistani women and girls are forced into Muslim marriages and made to convert to Islam each year. However, the real number is certainly much higher, since many incidents go unreported.

    The aforementioned report found that forced marriages usually follow a similar pattern: females between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted, made to convert to Islam, and then married to the abductor or an associate.

    Even if a case goes to court, the victims are threatened and pressured by their “husband” and his family to declare that their conversion was voluntary.

    Victims are often sexually abused, forced into prostitution, and suffer domestic abuse or even wind up in the human trafficking racket. Those who try to rebel are told that they “are now Muslims and that the punishment for apostasy is death”.

    In November 2015, the Pakistani Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Council of Islamic Ideology opposed a law on “forced conversion”, sparking dismay and protests among Pakistani Hindus and Christians.

    Since most minority Pakistanis are very poor, it is hard for them to have adequate political representation and receive justice.

    That of forced marriages is just one of many issues that religious and ethnic minorities face as they are deprived of their rights, even though they are formally guaranteed by the Constitution.

    A landmark Supreme Court ruling on 19 June 2014 took note of the injustice meted out to the country’s minorities.

    Headed by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, the bench included justices Azmat Saeed and Mushir Alam. It found that the government is complicitous in the acts of injustice. Unfortunately, the court’s ruling did not spark any reaction from the government.

    In the latest case, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has called for the return of Tahira and Reema to their families and criminal proceedings against their captors and rapists. Established in 1994, the AHRC is based in Hong Kong.

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    See also

    28/04/2016 09:40:00 INDIA
    Madhya Pradesh, police interrupt a Christian marriage: "The spouses are Hindus"

    Security officers and Hindu extremists stormed a place of worship in Satna, arresting 10 people including the pastor and the groom's parents. He is accused of having converted the pair illegally to Christianity and celebrating a marriage between minors. Christian leaders: "This is abuse of anti-conversion laws".

    11/04/2006 SRI LANKA
    Anti-conversion bill to become law soon
    Members of committee tasked with reviewing bill are appointed. If they approve, the bill will only require third and final reading. Christians are concerned and warn: If the vote is not secret, it will be hard for anyone to vote against the bill.

    19/04/2006 INDIA
    Christian groups against approval of Rajasthan anti-conversion bill

    John Dayal, a well-known human rights activist, has written an open letter to the State governor, urging her to "use her legislative powers to reject the decree and to prevent it from becoming law".

    29/07/2005 SRI LANKA
    Archbishop of Colombo tells government to respect religious freedom
    Archbishop Gomis makes his appeal as two "dangerous" anti-conversion bills make their way through parliament. The recent attack against a local Catholic church was the work of outside fundamentalists who act without reason but to destroy. "The Catholic community is not afraid; fundamentalists are a minority".

    12/09/2006 PHILIPPINES
    Marian pilgrimage for conversion, consecration and peace in the country
    Filipino bishops declare today, Feast Day of the Holy Name of Mary, a national day of prayer for peace and justice. They call on all the faithful to take part in the third national pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Mediatrix of all Grace.

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