06/07/2021, 15.35
PAKISTAN
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The Church in Karachi demands concrete actions against forced marriages

by Shafique Khokhar

The Archdiocese held a seminar on the problem of abducted Christian and Hindu women and girls abducted and forced into Islamic marriages. An appeal has been made to judicial and political authorities to enforce the Pakistan Penal Code in the case of forced marriage.

Karachi (AsiaNews) – Conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan pose a serious threat to underage girls, and fear of abductions has prompted many Hindu and Christian families to stop sending their girls to school after primary education.

In many cases, girls as young as 12 have been caught up in this situation since Islam does not provide any minimum age for conversion and marriage.

Compounding the matter is the fact that courts usually accept conversion and marriage (Nikahnama) papers and so end up acquitting the people accused of abduction and forced conversion.

Theoretically, Pakistani law classify sexual intercourse with children under the age of 16 as rape, imposing sentences ranging from 10 years to the death penalty.

Cognizant of this situation, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Archdiocese of Karachi held a seminar last Friday to raise awareness among families in the Korangi district.

The aim of the initiative was to ensure that the Catholic Church remains close to marginalised people standing by their side in their quest for justice.

Mariyam Kashif, a teacher and a peace activist with the CCJP in Karachi, told the seminar how the Pakistani justice system, at every level, has shown prejudice and failed to convict people involved in forced conversion and marriages of girls.

“In our country, we have laws, commissions and a constitution that support minority rights, but, unfortunately, some religious and political parties have become an obstacle to implementing them.”

This is also why minorities have declined, she noted. In the last census of 2017 they had fallen to 3.37 per cent of the population compared to 23 per cent in 1951.

Noman Peter, from the CCJP Karachi office, explained that forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls and the resulting marriages with their Muslim abductors are a scourge that has been going on for many years, fuelled by impunity.

This is happening despite the fact that since 2017, Article 498-b of the Pakistan Penal Code expressly bans forced marriage, punishable by sentences between three and seven years and a fine of up to 500,000 rupees (about US$ 3,200).

Speaking on behalf of the Hindu community, Ravi Vishal stressed how difficult it for Hindus to practise their religion in Pakistan. Like others, he demanded justice for Hindu and Christian women and girls, hopeful that the government will guarantee the same rights to all citizens of the country.

For his part, CCJP Karachi chief Kashif Anthony wants “forced conversion” to be added to Article 498-b of the Penal Code to make it easier to enforce the law.

At the same time, he wants the age of marriage be raised to 18 for both men and women at the national level, adding that the courts should ascertain whether marriages are based on free consent, actual age and marital status of the parties.

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