ASIA/PAKISTAN - Civil society call for justice: Girls kidnapped and forcibly converted

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) - Disappointment for the documented cases of kidnappings, marriages and forced religious conversions; denunciation of serious injustice; appeal to institutions for a useful intervention to stop the phenomenon: this is what groups, associations and movements of civil society in Pakistan express, without any religious connotation, which report yet another case concerning the 13-year-old Christian girl Zarvia Pervaiz, victim of kidnapping, forced conversion to Islam and early marriage.
The phenomenon, which seems to be very present in Pakistani society, alarms associations that defend the rights of people, is condemned by members of different religions, and also in political institutions.
Tariq Gill, a Christian and member of the Provincial Assembly of Punjab, after visiting Zarvia's family, expressed serious concern that the girl has not yet been returned to her family, despite the complaint (First Information Report) filed as early as May 2022 to the police, according to article 365 paragraph "b" of the Criminal Code, which punishes the crime of kidnapping, forced marriage.
Tariq Gill notes: "We ask that the Christian girl be returned to her parents, and that legal action be taken against the kidnappers and against those who have facilitated this process of kidnapping, forced conversion and forced marriage". According to the Christian parliamentarian, "we need a law that prohibits forced conversions and forced marriages of women belonging to religious minorities. We will ask for it in the Legislative Assembly, since it is urgent to protect the lives of women in Pakistan. We condemn inaction and inability of the guardians of law and justice to recover Zarvia". Tariq Gill notes that, despite the injustices suffered, "our Christian people remain strong in their faith and move forward with hope".
Nadia Stephen, journalist and writer committed to defending the rights of Pakistani women, tells Fides: "Injustice and the violation of the rule of law are becoming a dangerous trend in the country. We ask government authorities to bring the guilty to justice, just as equal rights must be guaranteed to all citizens". "Underage girls, victims of kidnappings and forced conversions and forced marriages - she notes - will be traumatized for life. Due to a phenomenon that sees violence and unpunished oppression, exercised by the strong on the most vulnerable, religious minorities in Pakistan are losing faith in the law and in the judicial system".
The "Voice for Justice" organization joins in stigmatizing the phenomenon and, through its president Joseph Jansen, says: "It is up to the government to introduce legal and administrative safeguards to protect minorities from human rights violations and to take serious measures to stop kidnappings, forced conversions and forced marriages of Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan". Jansen notes that "as long as the perpetrators enjoy impunity, the crime will not stop" and urges the government to "introduce a comprehensive law for the protection of women, victims of this physical, psychological and conscientious violence".
Asking justice for Zarvia Pervaiz and all the victims of forced conversions, Joseph Jansen reminds Fides of the case of a 12-year-old girl, Maha Asif, kidnapped in Lahore and taken to Hasilpur, where she was converted and forced to marry. The girl, in a state of physical and psychological prostration, was forced to sign documents in which she declared her approval, under the threat of death for her family members. Other recent cases concern the city of Faisalabad, in Punjab: Saba Nadeem, 15, and Chashman Kanwal, 14, have been kidnapped, forcibly converted and married by Muslim men in recent months.
It is true, notes Joseph Jansen, that in some cases it has been possible to reunite the girls with their families of origin, but it is still expected that justice will punish the perpetrators of the crimes. "The courts must do justice to the victims and punish the perpetrators and accomplices involved, in accordance with international human rights standards and according to the laws in force in Pakistan", he insists.
On August 11, on the National Day of Minorities, Bilawal Zardari, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan and president of the People's Party of Pakistan, the ruling party in Sindh province, publicly called for the protection of women of religious minorities. "The forced conversion of women from religious minorities - he pointed out - is one of the biggest challenges: Islam and the Constitution of Pakistan allow or legitimize forced conversions. It is necessary to operate at the legislative level to stop this phenomenon". In this way, said the minister, "we will demonstrate our belief in the policy of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Father of the Fatherland, when he assured that all citizens in Pakistan would be equal and enjoy equal rights".
According to a report drawn up by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), an NGO led by Pakistani Catholic Peter Jacob, in the year 2021 there were 78 cases of women and girls (39 Hindu and 38 Christian) kidnapped, forcibly converted and married by Muslim men. 76% of these are minors. The number of cases registered in 2021, says the CSJ, has increased by 80% compared to the year 2020. The phenomenon is only the tip of the iceberg because many cases are not reported by families for fear of retaliation. (PA/AG) (Agenzia Fides, 29/9/2022)