PAKISTAN: Call to recover a Hindu girl before she is forcibly converted to Islam

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PAKISTAN:  Call to recover a Hindu girl before she is forcibly converted to Islam

 

 

 

We demand the Pakistani authorities to immediately recover a teenaged Hindu girl, Payal Kumari, who was allegedly abducted by her teacher from district Thatta, Sindh province. The authorities did nothing for her recovery, instead, local police are saying that such cases are common, and she will come back. Her parents apprehend that she will be forcibly converted to Islam after her marriage.

 

It is incomprehensible why the state is so quiet on the issue of abduction of Hindu girls, the systemic cleansing of indigenous Hindu minority in the province is preposterous and heinous. 

 

Pakistan has failed to fulfill its obligations under constitutional provision and international treaties to protect the rights of vulnerable minorities from forced conversions and forced marriages. Every democratic state has constitutional and moral responsibility to provide protection against individuals or organizations that try to convert people by resorting to means of coercion or by directly exploiting situations of particular vulnerability such as underage marriage of minor girls belonging to religious minority groups.

 

The recurring cases of forced conversion continue to make headline in the vernacular press yet the state turns a deaf ear to the plight of the poor parents whose daughters are forcibly or through coercion converted. Recently another case of forcibly conversion surfaced where a 17 year old girl namely  Payal, daughter of Magha Mal Kohistani from Thatta, Sindh province was allegedly abducted by her teacher Kamran Soomro. On the morning of June 29, when she left her home for tuition at 8am she was abducted. Payal’s tuition teacher, Kamran Soomro is also missing since the same date. It is alleged by her parents that she was abducted by her teacher, Soomro, for the intention of converting her to Islam.

It is incomprehensible why the state is so quiet on the issue of abduction of Hindu girls, the systemic cleansing of indigenous Hindu minority in the province is preposterous and heinous. 

 

Earlier this year two minor sister were reportedly kidnapped and later a video of their conversion and solemnization of their marriage according to Islamic faith surfaced in the social media. The media was abuzz with the news of alleged forced conversion of two underage sisters Raveena aged 13 and Reena aged15, who were allegedly kidnapped by a group of “influential” men from their home in Ghotki district in Sindh on the eve of Holi.  IHRC’s statement on the case can be viewed here

 

the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities)Bill has failed to make  into law. The Bill was effectively blocked by the mobilization of the Islamist groups and parties. A group of religious scholars, including the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) termed the bill against the basic principles of Islam. Religious parties in Karachi launched a campaign against the bill in order to pressurize the Sindh government into repealing it. The JamaatI-Islami (JI) argued that there could be no age limit on people converting to Islam. Religious Parties threatened to lay siege to the Sindh Assembly if the legislature did not repeal the bill. Subsequently the bill was shelved and remains so to this day literally paving way for more forced conversions.

 

Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) mandates the freedom of religion or belief. Moreover, article 20 of the Pakistani Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.  The government is under obligation to safeguard the fundamental rights of all without discrimination based on religion, faith, or belief. Yet despite the constitutional measures one finds the religious minorities under precarious conditions trying to maintain their distinct identity as a religious group in the country

 It has been estimated that 1000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted and then married off to their abductors every year, as per different rights groups working on the issue 20 or more Hindu girls are abducted every month in Pakistan.  Other groups have estimated that between 20 to 25 Hindu girls are forcibly converted every month.

 

 Pakistan has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), of which Article 16 confirms the right of every woman to enter into marriage ‘only with their free and full consent’. Pakistan has ratified the Child Rights Convention, of which Article 14 (1) states that state parties need to respect the right of children to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), only five other countries see more children abducted and forcibly married than Pakistan. Once they have converted to Islam, the religion affords their spouse and relatives-in-law the legal protection to conduct this controversial practice.

 

Both the lower and higher courts of Pakistan have failed to follow proper procedures in cases that involve accusations of forced marriage and forced conversions. The judiciary is often subject to fear of reprisal from extremist elements, in other cases the judicial officers’ personal beliefs influence them into accepting the claims made that the woman/girl converted on her own free will. There is often no investigation into the circumstances under which the conversion takes place and the age of the girl is often ignored. The girl/woman involved is largely left in the custody of her kidnapper throughout the trial process where she is subject to further threats to force her into denying her abduction and rape and claiming that the conversion was willing. Though it is illegal to marry underage girls, the abductors often find a way around this by paying for forged medical reports to "prove" the girls are older.

 

The Islamabad High Court, for instance, declared in April 2019 that it was within the law for Hindu sister “Reena and Raveena to convert to Islam and stay with their husbands. It was also ordered that the interior minister must ensure the adopted families of the two girls were protected from any legal action issued by their Hindu parents. Sadly several Pakistani judges have in the past prohibited girls who have converted to Islam from being returned to their "infidel" parents.

 

In order to curb the trend the IHRC suggests a few measures; first and foremost the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) must be passed in The Sindh assembly. Efforts should be made to pass this bill in Sindh, the National Assembly, Punjab and across Pakistan.  It is vital that faster response times are ensured in cases where abduction is reported. Sensitization of judicial officers and a system requiring greater accountability should be set up to ensure best practice in all cases.

 

The Pakistani government should also consider establishing Provincial Commissions for minorities who will be empowered to take up forced conversion and forced marriage cases. The political participation and inclusion of minorities must be ensured; additionally   the state must see to it that religious minorities have equal access to education, jobs and government positions through passing anti-discrimination laws.

 


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