Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - "The phenomenon of the current forced conversions threatens religious freedom, freedom of conscience and religious pluralism in Pakistan. There are hundreds of cases of forced conversions of Hindu and Christian underage girls, who were forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men who are twice their age. For this reason we call for decisive action by the Government of Pakistan, which is also supported by parliament and the judiciary", said the Catholic Peter Jacob, Director of the NGO Center for Social Justice (CSJ), in an online conference entitled "Forced Conversion Protection", that was held yesterday, December 8, in Lahore, attended by hundreds of people.
According to CSJ, a total of 162 cases of Hindu and Christian women were kidnapped, converted and forcibly married were officially recorded from 2013 to 2020 in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh alone. Jacob remarked: "These data show the vulnerability of women belonging to religious minorities. No province in Pakistan has been immune from this abuse. Approximately 46% of women converted were under the age of 18, 16% were over 18, while for the rest of the cases age is not mentioned. Of the women forced to convert to Islam, 88 were Hindu and 72 were Christians. The province of Punjab has the highest number of forced conversions with a total of 84 cases, followed by the province of Sindh with 71 cases. Of course there are cases that are not reported".
CSJ made a seven-point appeal to the Prime Minister and the entire Pakistani government, asking for the protection of minorities from forced conversions. The Ministry of Human Rights is invited to carry out a comprehensive study on the issue, including an analysis of the cases heard in court and proposed solutions. The second point asks the Parliamentary Commission set up in November 2019 to issue statements based on factual investigations and complete data analyzes. The third point concerns the police forces: they should investigate all pending cases and applyarticle 498 b of the Pakistani Penal Code, which is relevant to combating forced conversions and child marriages. Under point four, a bill is called for, with which all religious conversions are to be checked by a civil judge in order to determine the existence of free will in addition to the age and marital status of the parties involved. It underlines the need to approve amendments to the law restricting child marriage (fifth point) and the creation of an autonomous national commission for the protection of minority rights (sixth point). Finally, the President of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is urged to sensitize the judiciary on the issue of forced conversions.
(AG-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 9/12/2020)