10/11/2012, 00.00
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Christians and Muslims appeal to Pakistani government to protect human and women's rights

Today is the United Nations' first International Day of the Girl Child. In Pakistan, indignation continues over the attack against Malala Yousafzai. Army chief slams Taliban attackers as government puts reward on their capture. Muslim and Christian leaders call on Islamabad to cooperate with the United Nations on effectively enforcing human rights.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The Pakistani government should engage seriously with international institutions to overcome obstacles in the way of improving human rights situation, this according to a conference sponsored by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church. In conjunction with the United Nations' International Day of the Girl Child today, the interfaith forum calls on Islamabad to protect the rights of minors and women against political and sexual violence. The appeal comes a few hours after a 14-year-old Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzai, was attacked, an incident that has provoked anger and indignation across the country and around the world.

Today is the first International Day of the Girl Child. Proclaimed by the United Nations, the topic this year is child brides, a problem that bedevils many nations, including Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Early marriage prevents girls from study, denying them the fundamental right to grow and develop fully as a person. Gender discrimination, poverty and religious and social factors are among the problem's many causes.

Organised by Muslim and Christian activists under the auspices of the NCJP, the conference in Lahore focused on human rights, and their violation, especially in relation to women and girls.

The promoters of the initiative want the Pakistani government to cooperate earnestly with international organisations and use every opportunity to "overcome obstacles" that prevent "improving the human rights situation". Until now, Pakistan has not been serious or reliable in the matter; it has failed to protect the weak members of society, like children, women and workers as well as ethnic and religious minorities.

In order to improve the situation and reach the desired goals, conference participants urged the government to meet four broad recommendations, namely implement ratified international treaties and adapt domestic laws to universal human rights; take serious measures rather than make baseless claims of progress; set up independent bodies to monitor human rights at both the national and local levels; and work more closely with the international community and institutions, facilitating the work and entry of United Nations officials.

Meanwhile, popular indignation continues as a result of the Taliban attack against Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl education activist, who was shot and wounded. After a tricky operation, she is now out of danger.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said that the government would protect girls' right to an education.

In a rare statement to the press, Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani said Yousafzai was "an icon of courage and hope" and the attack showed "how little regard they [the Taliban] have for human life and how low they can fall in their cruel ambition to impose their twisted ideology".

Pakistani officials have offered a 10 million rupee (5,000) reward for information leading to the arrest of her attackers.

However, Malala Yousafzai's is but one of many cases in which the rights of women and girls have been trampled on, especially if they belong to religious minorities.

One case is that of Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl suffering from mental illness, who is currently on trial for blasphemy based on false charges by a Muslim leader in Islamabad.

Another involves Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, sentenced to death on the basis of the 'black law.' Held in a maximum security prison for the past two years despite appeals by the pope and the international community, she is still at risk of extrajudicial murder. Nevertheless, she continues on, comforted in her faith and hopeful that she will see her loved ones one day.

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