Karachi (Agenzia Fides) - "Conversion without Consent": this is the title of the report presented yesterday, December 11, by the Pakistani NGO "Voice for Justice" in collaboration with the international NGO "Jubilee Campaign". The report, sent to Fides, takes into consideration 100 cases of kidnappings, forced religious conversions, forced and early marriages of girls and women belonging to the Christian community throughout Pakistan, which occurred in the period between January 2019 and October 2022. According to the data, the year 2021 registered 42 cases and showed an increase in the number of formally reported cases in 2019 (there were 27 cases) and 2020 (12 cases). Data shows that the highest number of total cases, 86%, is reported in Punjab province alone.
The president of "Voice for Justice", Joseph Jansen, stated that "it is common to take advantage of a position of power to encourage marginalized people to convert, which amounts to coercion". The right to religious freedom does not protect against "improper proselytism", that is, the offer of material or social advantages or the application of improper pressure in order to obtain new members, a phenomenon that affects the most vulnerable citizens and girls.
"The phenomenon of forced conversions reveals the state's inability to implement and enforce existing laws aimed at preventing kidnappings, early marriages and forced marriages, especially when the victims come from minority religious communities", he added. For this, the complaints of forced religious conversions should not be abandoned, but a law should be introduced that punishes this crime and prevents it, in accordance with human rights standards.
The report "Conversion without consent" includes in particular the cases of some Christian minors such as Zarvia Parvaiz, Saba Nadeem, Chashman Kanwal and Sunaina James, victims of forced conversions of faith. Zarvia Parvaiz revealed that she had been "drugged, raped, beaten with a stick, burned with cigarettes." Similarly, Saba Nadeem stated that she "was kidnapped and raped, and the assailant took her fingerprint on the marriage and conversion certificate by force against her free will." These stories bear witness to the inhumane treatment to which kidnapped girls and women are subjected, with widespread impunity. The report shows that 61% of girls were abducted before their 16th birthday, but their ages are often falsified to avoid criminal conviction of their abductors.
In Pakistan "legal and administrative measures are needed to strengthen the rule of law, address human rights violations, fight impunity and guarantee fundamental freedoms for all without discrimination", observes Msgr. Indrias Rehmat, a Catholic Bishop from Faisalabad. In view of the recent news cases in which human dignity continues to be violated and fundamental rights abused, the Bishop recalls that "intolerance towards any social group or community harms the whole of society and undermines the universal values of equality and human dignity". The recent International Human Rights Day, celebrated on December 10 to commemorate the UN's 74th Universal Declaration of Human Rights - underlines Msgr. Rehmat in a note sent to Agenzia Fides - should make us reflect on the common commitment in Pakistan to promote social cohesion: "Opinion leaders, including religious leaders and teachers, should adopt positive narratives to counter intolerance, hate speech and violence, promoting among children and young people respect for diversity within of their respective communities and between them" he says.
On the occasion of the World Day, "Voice for Justice" organized a conference entitled "Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All" in Karachi. Participating in the meeting, Shazia George, former member of the Punjab Commission on the Legal and Social Status of Women, recalled some data from the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, published by the "World Economic Forum": out of 146 countries surveyed, Pakistan ranks 145th in women's economic participation, 135th in education level, 143rd in women's health and survival, and 95th in women's political empowerment. Shazia argued that early and forced marriages persist in Pakistan, negatively impacting girls' education, health and development. "The government - he urged - must approve a bill that guarantees that the minimum age for marriage is set at 18, for both boys and girls, as in the province of Sindh, and the marriage of minors to be declared legally inadmissible". She also called for more efforts to eliminate serious forms of discrimination in the social, economic and public life and to promote the socio-economic development and political participation of marginalized groups.
According to data from the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, there is a general increase in violence against women: in 2021, 9,734 cases were reported in Punjab province, of which 4,598 were rapes, 1,415 cases of domestic violence, 34 acid burns, and 197 "honor killings" murders. Violence against women, under the pretext of religious conversions and marriages, is not controlled and represents a serious threat to the right to religious freedom, notes the Commission. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/12/2022)