ASIA/PAKISTAN - Civil society to government: it is necessary to protect religious minorities

Tuesday, 29 March 2022 religious minorities   religious freedom   civil society  

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - "It is encouraging that the killing of Pooja Kumari, a Hindu girl who resisted kidnapping, forced conversion and forced marriage, was widely condemned by civil society and by individuals on social and mainstream media. The organizations that protect the rights have asked the authorities to guarantee an impartial investigation into this incident and a fair legal process", says a press release by Wajahat Masood and Peter Jacob, respectively president and executive director of the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), noting, on the other hand, "the government's failure to address gender-based violence and religion-related violence in the country".
"There is an urgent need for the government to adopt specific measures and a national action plan to counter extremism, violence and persecution of minorities", notes the CSJ. "Forced conversions violate religious freedom of citizens and undermine Pakistan's religious pluralism; therefore, the government should address the impunity associated with this phenomenon. Forced marriage and conversion of underage girls, especially Christians and Hindus, and gender-based violence are long-standing and ongoing practices in Pakistan", the organization points out. The latest CSJ report on forced conversions in Pakistan documents at least 78 cases of forced conversions or involuntary conversions in 2021, affecting 39 girls from the Hindu community, 38 Christian women and one young Sikh, including 40 cases in Sindh province, 36 in Punjab and one case each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces. CSJ leaders lament: "Incidents have increased by 80% since 2020. In particular, 33% of victims were under 14 years old and 76% of victims were minors (under 18).
In addition, in 18% of cases, the age was not reported, so it can be assumed that 94% of the victims were minors. The conversion of religious beliefs of underage girls speaks volumes about the vulnerability of converts and the motivation of the perpetrators. The freedom of religion of all citizens is protected by Article 20 of the Pakistani Constitution, which enshrines the Freedom of religious belief is guaranteed, so it is illegal and immoral to use threats, coercion or manipulation to force girls to change their faith".
CSJ adds, "Girls and women belonging to religious minorities are disadvantaged because of their social and material weakness are targeted so that they have no access to justice, which perpetrators use to manipulate the justice system and get away with it". The CSJ is calling on the government to implement the Islamabad Supreme Court's declaration that marriages under the age of 18 are unlawful, even if they were formally contracted "of their own free will". In addition, the ruling by the Federal Sharia Court states that setting a minimum age for marriage is a lawful and not an "un-Islamic" act. "Therefore", CSJ said,
"legislators should not hesitate to amend existing laws to prevent child marriage while taking administrative and procedural steps for effective enforcement to protect vulnerable citizens". The lack of implementation of existing national laws and articles of Pakistan's Penal Code (PPC) is a serious obstacle to preventing this practice: "The government must introduce effective legal and administrative measures to protect minorities from crimes such as forced conversions, forced child marriages and sexual violence in Pakistan protect", the statement concludes. (AG-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 29/3/2022)