THE case of Reena Meghwar has highlighted yet again the reprehensible practice of forced conversions in the country.
The case emerged last week when a local court in Badin, Sindh, allowed the victim to leave her ‘husband’ and reunite with her family. This was Reena’s third appearance in court since February 2021. She retracted her earlier two statements about converting to Islam and wanting to live with her ‘husband’, saying that her previous stance was on account of the threat to her family. The court not only ordered her release but also instructed the police to register new cases against her ‘husband’.
Unfortunately, Reena’s ordeal is not uncommon. Her case is nevertheless significant because a local court demonstrated its writ without bowing to influential quarters that are often found supporting the perpetrators. Moreover, in a large number of such cases, the physical and emotional duress of the victims remains in the background, and does not become part of the court record.
A similar case occurred last year when a 13-year-old Christian girl from Karachi was allowed to live with her so-called husband by the Sindh High Court on the basis of spurious documents, and the girl’s statement that she was 18 years of age and had married of her own free will. The high court too later reversed its decision and put the teenager in protective custody when new evidence emerged.
Estimates indicate that some 1,000 girls from minority communities mostly in Sindh are forcibly converted to Islam every year in the country. Most of them are also under the legal marriageable age, yet the authorities are hesitant to take action as the perpetrators often have connections in high circles. Implementation of child marriage laws must be ensured to curtail at least one aspect of forced conversions. It is also time for the Sindh Assembly to push back against regressive elements who had taken objection to a bill to deter forced conversions and succeeded in stopping its passage.
Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2021