07/29/2022, 16.46
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Pakistan’s minorities urge the government to adopt legislation against abductions, forced marriage

by Shafique Khokhar

Two girls, aged 12 and 15, were recently returned to their families, but their kidnappers have not yet been brought to justice. Human rights groups complain that impunity in forced conversion cases encourages a practice that victimises mainly religious minorities.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Yesterday, Pakistani human rights groups expressed concern over the lack of legal and regulatory safeguards to protect underage minority girls from forced conversions.

They called on the government to get tough with people who engage in forgery, sexual violence, child marriages and forced conversions, citing the case of 12-year-old girl, Maha Asif, who was kidnapped last month from her home in Lahore by Muhammad Akmal, and taken to Hasilpur, where she was forced to convert and marry against her will.

The girl’s kidnappers forced her to sign papers, threatening the lives of her brothers. A similar case involved Saba Nadeem, 15, who was kidnapped, forcibly converted and married to Yasir Hussain, 45, in Faisalabad last May.

It is encouraging that police filed a First Information Report (FIR) under section 365-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, and were able to rescue both girls and return them to their families; however, it is sad that in both cases, the kidnappers have not yet been brought to justice.

By contrast, the fate of 14-year-old Chashman Kanwal is still uncertain. Kidnapped in Faisalabad, she was taken to Sahiwal, where she was forcibly converted and married to Muhammad Usman in July 2021.

Although the police filed FIRs in connection with the offences of child and illegal marriage, which are punishable with up to 25 years, her abductor is still free and she has not yet been handed over to her parents.

Unfortunately, those responsible enjoy impunity, said Joseph Jansen, president of Voice for Justice. In his view, the government should introduce comprehensive legislation against forced conversions in accordance with international human rights standards, and bring to justice the perpetrators and their accomplices.

Afzal Bhatti notes that failure to enforce existing national laws is a key obstacle to preventing such practices and allowing those responsible to escape justice.

Carol Nadeem slams the government for failing to enforce the rulings by the Lahore High Court, the Islamabad High Court, and the Shariat Federal Court regarding religious conversions and the minimum legal age for marriage, which are meant to strengthen support for legislation that protects minority girls from exploitation by influential groups and criminal elements.

For this reason, human rights violations linked to forced conversions continue to occur. In fact, the absence of government action is encouraging the practice, said human rights activist Ashiknaz Khokhar.

For him, charges of forced conversion and marriage should be investigated independently, impartially and in a timely manner, with the aim of arresting and bringing to justice the perpetrators in proceedings that guarantee the right to a fair trial while ensuring the victims' right to justice and effective remedy.

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A 12-year-old Christian girl abducted by a Muslim in Sahiwal
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Court rules that a girl who’s had her first period can marry, thus backing Huma Younus’s kidnapper. For girl’s lawyer, this is shameful
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Pakistani activists: Enough forced conversions, government must act
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