ASIA/PAKISTAN – Girls abducted and forcibly baptized: civil society calls for justice

ASIA/PAKISTAN – Girls abducted and forcibly baptized: civil society calls for justice

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – Disappointment at the documented cases of kidnappings, forced religious marriages and conversions; condemning the serious injustice and calling on the institutions to intervene to stop the phenomenon: these are the words of groups, associations and civil society movements in Pakistan, without any religious connotation, condemning another case of a 13-year-old Christian girl years Zarvia Pervaiz, victim of kidnapping, forced conversion to Islam and early marriage.
The phenomenon, which seems to be very present in Pakistani society, worries associations that protect people’s rights, is condemned by members of various religions, and is also present in political institutions.
Tariq Gill, a Christian and member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, after visiting Zarwiya’s family, expressed serious concern that the girl has not yet been returned to her family despite a complaint (First Information Report) lodged with the police as early as May 2022 ., in accordance with Article 365, section “b” of the Penal Code, which punishes the crime of kidnapping, persuading a woman to marry.
Tariq Gill noted, “We demand that the Christian girl be returned to the custody of her parents and that legal action be taken against the abductors and those who facilitated this process of abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage.” According to the Christian parliamentarian, “a law is needed , which prohibits the forced conversion and forced marriage of women belonging to religious minorities. We will demand it in the Legislative Assembly as it is urgent to protect the lives of women in Pakistan. We condemn the inaction and failure of the defenders of law and justice to bring back Zarwiyah.” Tariq Gill notes that despite the injustices suffered, “our Christian people remain strong in their faith and move forward with hope.”
Nadia Stephen, a journalist and writer dedicated to defending the rights of Pakistani women, agrees, telling Agenzia Fides: “Injustice and the violation of the rule of law are becoming a dangerous trend in the country. We call on the state authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice, as equal rights must be guaranteed to all citizens.” “Minors who are victims of kidnapping, forced conversion and forced marriage,” he points out, “will be traumatized for life. Because of the phenomenon of violence and abuse with impunity by the powerful against vulnerable, religious minorities in Pakistan is a loss of confidence in the law and the judicial system.”
The organization “Voice for Justice” adds to the stigmatization of the phenomenon and through its president Joseph Jansen states: “It is up to the government to introduce legal and administrative guarantees to protect minorities from human rights violations and to take measures to end kidnapping, forced conversion and forced marriage of Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan. Jansen points out that “as long as perpetrators enjoy impunity, crime will not stop” and urges the government to “introduce comprehensive legislation to protect women victims of this physical, psychological and conscientious abuse”.
Calling for justice for Zarvia Pervaiz and all victims of forced conversion, Joseph Jansen reminds Fides of the case of a 12-year-old girl, Maha Asif, who was kidnapped in Lahore and taken to Hasilpur, where she was converted and forcibly married. The girl, in a state of physical and mental prostration, was forced to sign documents declaring her approval, under threat of death to her family members.
Other recent cases concern the city of Faisalabad (Punjab): Saba Nadeem, 15, and Chashman Kanwal, 14, were abducted, forcibly converted and married by Muslims in recent months.
It is true, says Joseph Jansen, that in some cases it has been possible to reunite the girls with their birth families, but justice is still expected to punish the perpetrators. “Courts must deliver justice to the victims and punish the perpetrators and accomplices in accordance with international human rights standards and the laws of Pakistan,” he insisted.
On August 11, on the occasion of National Minorities Day, Bilawal Zardari, Pakistan’s foreign minister and chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, the ruling party in Sindh province, publicly called for minority women to be religiously protected. The forced conversion of religious minority women, he noted, was one of the biggest challenges: neither Islam nor Pakistan’s constitution allowed or legalized forced conversion. We must work at the legislative level to stop this phenomenon”. In this way, the minister said, “we will show that we believe in the policy of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Father of the Nation, when he assured that all citizens of Pakistan would be equal and shall enjoy the same rights.”
According to a report prepared by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), an NGO headed by Pakistani Catholic Peter Jacob, in 2021 there were 78 cases of women and girls (39 Hindu and 38 Christian) abducted, forcibly converted and married by Muslim men. 76% of them are minors. The number of cases registered in 2021, CSJ says, has increased by 80% compared to 2020. The phenomenon is only the tip of the iceberg, as many cases are not reported by families for fear of reprisals.
(PA-AG) (Agenzia Fides 09/29/2022)


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