ISLAMABAD: The Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP) on Wednesday slammed forced conversions of underage girls through criminal means and demanded that the federal and provincial governments should devise uniform policies for protection of religious minorities.

Addressing a press conference at the National Press Club, MAP Chairman Akmal Bhatti said minorities would not tolerate any violation of the rights of minor girls.

The families of three rape victims were present at the press conference who highlighted their ordeal and hardships at the hands of various government departments and institutions while pursuing their cases.

Mr Bhatti said the government should set up special courts for such cases to provide speedy justice to victims, adding that every year in Pakistan around 1,000 minor girls were abducted, raped, forcibly converted and forced into marriages. He said it was not a religious issue but criminal-minded people, kidnappers and adulterers resort to religion only to escape punishment and the grip of law.

“Religious minorities are under stress and we protest these growing incidents,” Mr Bhatti said, adding that the voice of these girls cannot be silenced and the struggle to provide justice to them will continue. The families of the victims - Aina, Mehak and Arzoo Raja - called on authorities to award exemplary punishments to the culprits.

The MAP chairman also called on the president, prime minister and chief justice of Pakistan to punish perpetrators of abduction and rape of minors.

Speakers said the government should introduce legislation that would ban forced conversions and marriages.

The MAP leaders also regretted that the Ministry of Religious Affairs had stopped the proposed bill, the Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act 2021.

“It is unfortunate that the draft of the Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act 2021 prepared by the Ministry of Human Rights has been rejected by the parliamentary committee without any justification,” said Shamaun Alfred Gill, spokesman for the alliance.

“The minimum age of marriage in Sindh is 18 years and in Punjab it is 16 years, which can be interpreted to as low as 13 years. Yet, girls below the age of 18 years were kidnapped and forced into marriage in Sindh, while the law enforcement authorities remain silent,” Mr Gill added.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2021

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