-Photo by Faras Ghani
WASHINGTON: An estimated one thousand Christian and Hindu women are forced to convert and marry Muslim men in Pakistan every year, says a report released on Monday.
According to a report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan, up to 700 of these women are Christian and 300 are Hindu.
“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 authors claim.
The MSP also issued an appeal for action along with this investigative report detailing forced marriages and conversions of Christian girls and women in Pakistan.
The Christian community in Pakistan is over two million in size, accounts for 42 per cent of Pakistan's minority population, and is mostly resident in Punjab.
MSP’s investigations find that cases of forced marriages/conversions follow a distinctive 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 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.
These patterns of violence and miscarriages of justice are explored in the report through an examination of 10 illustrative cases.
The report also describes the historical and social context of the problem, and the particular grievances of Pakistan's Christian community in relation to the existing legal, political, and procedural guarantees for the protection of human rights of Pakistan's religious minorities. The report also highlights the patterns of violence through which the law and social attitudes become complicit in providing immunity for perpetrators, and the complex nature of associated crimes that make it difficult to categorise this crime as specific to religious identity. The report concludes with detailed recommendations at various levels — national, provincial, and local — for key stakeholders.
MSP is mobilising an inclusive coalition to raise awareness on this issue. MSP will host outreach events in the coming weeks in Pakistan (in collaboration with the National Commission of Justice and Peace in Pakistan) and around the world.