04/23/2012, 00.00
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No to forced conversions to Islam and marriage without consent, says Justice and Peace

Catholic activists urge the Supreme Court to stop violations and protect abuse victims. They appeal on behalf of three young Hindu women forced to marry three Muslim men against their will. In a "male dominated, violent and bigoted environment," women cannot truly exercise free will.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - In a press release sent to AsiaNews, Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Masi and Peter Jacob, respectively the national director and executive secretary of the Catholic Church's National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), call on the Supreme Court of Pakistan to stop forced conversions, protect the victims of abuses, ensure justice and enforce respect for human rights. In the statement, the Christian activists urge the highest court in the land to reopen the case of three young Hindu women (Rinkel Kumari, Asha Haleema and Lata) who were forced to convert to Islam and marry three Muslim men.

For the NCJP officials, Pakistan's legal system has become a source of injustice because the principle of 'free consent' is applied loosely or selectively, in disregard of the social realities and the circumstances of life.

In fact, not only in the "above mentioned cases but in many cases of so-called conversions of minority women, the courts have overlooked ascertaining the age of the converted and whether the marrying male (Bashir Ahmad) had taken permission from his first wife according to Muslim Personal Law," the two NCJP officials write.

Applying the principle of free will without looking at the evidence in a social context in which religious freedom and gender equality are a pipe dream can result in the miscarriage of justice.

In a "male dominated, violent and bigoted environment," the law and the courts cannot work on that assumption that armed and unarmed, minority and majority, men and women enjoy the same scope of free will.

The ruling by the Supreme Court on 18 April to hand over the women to their husbands raises grave concerns among religious minorities at a time of rising "religious intolerance" and demographic decline.

For this reason, the NCJP wants the court to examine the case in question more closely and look more carefully at the repercussions its ruling might have. For the Catholic agency, the decision should have been informed by the "legal principles of safeguarding the vulnerable."

For Fr Masi and Peter Jacob, "The Supreme Court or the Government can control the damage to religious diversity by defining forced conversion according to international standards of religious freedom which inter alia includes a right to re-convert" to one's former religion.

In this sense, "If a conversion comes simultaneously with marriage and the newly converted cannot meet her parents, then it is not an exercise of free choice of religion".

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