Forced Conversions of Minority Girls On The Rise. By Saadia Haq

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One of the many threats faced by minorities inside Pakistan, the issue of forced conversions is the most harmful, as annually hundreds of girls hailing from Christian, Hindu and other minority faiths fall prey to this growing practice.
Usually young girls as young as teenagers belonging to religious minorities get abducted, forcefully converted to Islam and married to an alleged abductor or any of his accomplices. Usually, in courts, such girls who remain in custody of their abductors testify that they willingly eloped and changed their religion.
Despite all the hype, there are no authentic statistics available on forced conversions in Pakistan. But local media has been reporting that as many as 1,000 girls get forcibly converted to Islam.
Every now and then, we hear news of some isolated case taking place in some remote area in the media but the state has yet to take a comprehensive action for curbing the illegal practice of forcing citizens to change their religion under duress. At the same time there are some other factors continuing towards the rise of such practices where exploitation of minority faith women goes unchecked.
For instance, take the case of Pakistani Christians a socio-economically marginalized group, of which about 80 per cent lead life in abject poverty. Because of their small number and poor status they “are subjected to human trafficking and sale through debt transfers, physical abuse, and economic exploitation.” In such situations, it’s easier to go about with the exploitation of Christian as the crimes go unpunished with impunity.
Many a times, willful conversions cannot be ruled out due to socio-economic reasons. As noted by Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP), the “social and economic disparities and poverty remain a major reason for willful conversions from Christianity to Islam" and the social pressure also plays its part for upward mobility by ‘conversion’.
Further, MSP comments that, from local media reports, it is difficult to find out how many conversions were of a coercive nature. However, it notes that “The line between willful and coerced conversions becomes further blurred when the reasons for conversion include a need for security, escape from discrimination, or fear of future violence.”
Last year, the Senate’s Functional Committee on Human Rights endorsed a move to criminalize forced religious conversions and to prevent misuse of the blasphemy laws. One wonders why the Government of Pakistan has not yet reinforced the constitution that already has legal mechanisms for minority religions protection from the bane of forced conversions and marriages.
The provinces also need to take serious action and work in collaboration with local police departments to provide justice to victims of forced conversions and marriages. Till now the role of local law and order departments and police has been very lacking. Usually they don’t provide any help to the victims and families of forced conversions fearing the reaction of feudal powers and majority Muslim communities.
Most victims continue to suffer at the hands of the perpetuators and such “illegal husbands” and are unable to get any justice. What is most disturbing is the fact that perpetuators of such heinous crimes are feted in our society as if becoming Muslim is the only good thing one person can do in his or her life.
Never mind, the barbaric reality that you are making Muslims by using all forms of violence including rape, physical violence and social pressures. That is not only inhuman; it is un-Islamic and uncalled for.
Forced conversion of girls to Islam is against the teachings of Islam and also a violation of law in the country. It is a serious crime that requires the government to adopt a comprehensive mechanism for the protection of women belonging to minority communities.

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