Around 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men every year, according to a report released by Movement for Solidarity and Peace- in Pakistan on Monday.
The report states the estimates of the incidence of forced marriage and conversion from 100 to 700 victim Christian girls and 300 Hindu girls per year, adding that the true scale of the problem is likely to be much greater, as a number of cases are never reported or do not progress through the law-enforcement and legal systems.
The report has categorized the concurrent incidence of forced conversions and forced marriages as a distinct crime specific to minority Christian women in Punjab.
The research by MSP has led to discovery of a distinguished pattern:
Christian girls — usually between the ages of 12 and 25 — are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party.
The victim’s family usually files a First Information Report (FIR) for abduction or rape with the local police station. The abductor, on behalf of the victim girl, files a counter FIR, accusing the Christian family of harassing the willfully converted and married girl, and for conspiring to convert the girl back to Christianity.
Upon production in the courts or before the magistrate, the victim girl is asked to testify whether she converted and married of her own free will or if she was abducted.
In most cases, the girl remains in custody of the abductor while judicial proceedings are carried out. Upon the girl’s pronouncement that she willfully converted and consented to the marriage, the case is settled without relief for the family.
Once in the custody of the abductor, the victim girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse.
In its report, MSP has included 10 illustrative cases victims who have been subjected to such patterns of violence and injustice.
The report describes the history of and social context within which forced conversions and marriages take place, the particular grievances of the Christians and others minorities in Pakistan including the Blasphemy laws as under Sections 295-B, and C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), constitutional guarantees of equal representation, underrepresentation in political institutions, and religion-specific Articles of the Constitution of Pakistan; and the issue of forced conversion and forced marriages targeting Christian girls community in Pakistan.
The report has surveyed legal, political, and procedural guarantees for rights protection and outlines illustrative cases demonstrating the pattern of violence through which the law becomes complicit in providing immunity for perpetrators, and the complex nature of associated crimes that make it difficult to categorize this crime as specific to religious identity.
The report concludes with detailed recommendations for the key stakeholders at various levels – national, provincial, and local.
MSP has appealed for action with the release of the report.
The organisation is mobilising an inclusive coalition to raise awareness on this issue.
It will be hosting outreach events in the coming weeks in Pakistan (in collaboration with the National Commission of Justice and Peace in Pakistan) and around the world.
The current investigative effort by MSP follows its 2012 release of “Shia Hazara of Pakistan: A Community under Siege”, an in-depth report revealing abuse of religious minorities in Pakistan’s eastern province of Balochistan.