Islamabad (NVI): In the last 7 years, at least 162 girls and women belonging to Hindu and Christian communities were forcibly married and converted to Islam in Pakistan, highlighting the problems being faced by minorities in the country.
The highest number of 49 such cases was reported last year, according to Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a non-governmental organisation of Pakistan, which came out with the figures reported in the media between 2013 and November 2020.
These are just those cases that were reported while many are not even reported because of fear imposed by the perpetrators of such crimes in collusion with the police and other authorities.
According to the CSJ, more than 54 percent of victims (girls and women) were Hindus while 44 percent belonged to the Christian community.
Over 46 percent of the victims were minors, with nearly 33 percent aged 11-15 years, while only 17 percent of victims were above 18 years.
Around 52 percent of the forced conversions occurred in Punjab province and 44 percent in Sindh.
In 16 cases, victims approached the Sindh High Court for relief from forced marriages.
In Punjab, in just one case, the Lahore High Court took into protective custody a Christian girl named Charlotte, who had been married off and converted against her will in April last year.
The CSJ said the Chief Justice of Pakistan should consider sensitisation of judiciary and judicial officers on the issue of forced conversions.
“An amendment bill in the criminal law should be introduced that makes all religious conversions be acknowledged, verified and validated by a senior civil judge to ascertain the presence of free will, consent, in addition to the appropriateness of age and marital status of the parties,” it recommended.
Reflecting the apathy or collusion at the level of the lawmakers, a law was proposed in 2017 to make forced marriage with a non-Muslim woman an offence, punishable with five to seven years in prison, as well as a fine. The legislation — Criminal Law (amendment) Act IV — failed to get through the Senate (upper House of Pakistan Parliament) although the National Assembly (lower House) approved it.