The religious minorities in Pakistan, mainly Hindu and Christian women and children, continue to be oppressed and persecuted, at the same time facing the risk of being kidnapped, forcibly converted, raped, and coerced into a “marriage” with an older or elderly man, Gatestone Institute reported.
Pakistan is a country whose culture and institutions are largely shaped by a religious ideology that has no regard for anything outside its system.
According to Shiva Kachhi, president of the minority group called Pakistan Darawar Ittehad (PDI), it is rare for a Hindu girl to be returned to her family because the police are typically unwilling to comply, despite the organization’s efforts, Gatestone Institute reported.
On June 2 this year, a 14-year-old Hindu girl, Sohana Sharma Kumari, was abducted and married to a Muslim man, WioNews reported.
The victim’s father alleged that three men broke into their home, stole gold jewellery, and kidnapped Sohana under threat of violence. He also filed a complaint regarding the matter.
Later, the girl appeared in a video stating clearly under duress that she had converted to Islam and married a Muslim man. Although she appeared to be under strain when making her account, the judge postponed the case until June 12, 2023, and remanded her to a shelter home for women
After Kumari reportedly stated that she wanted to be reunited with her family, a Pakistani court finally, on June 12, allowed her to reunite with her parents. However, the court failed to take any concrete steps to protect her from her abductors. Gatestone Institute further cited a 2022 report highlighting the persecution of minorities in Pakistan.
The report entitled ‘Conversion without Consent: A report on the abductions, forced conversions, and forced marriages of Christian girls and women in Pakistan’ issued by the Voice for Justice Organization and the Jubilee Campaign stated, “Pakistan is a country with a state religion, Islam, which serves as a source for devising policies, drafting laws, and issuing judgments.
The country has a predominantly 200.36 million Muslim population, making up more than 96.47 per cent of the total population (i.e., 207.684 million) while religious minorities comprise around 3.52 per cent (i.e., 7.32 million).”
The report also stated that many girls between the ages of 12 and 16 years are abducted, ‘forcibly converted’ to Islam, and then ‘forcibly married’ to their abductors, who typically are twice their victims’ ages and are already married with children, though they are presented as bachelors in documents submitted to the courts.
The child brides from minority communities are at higher risk of facing violence and abuse, which poses a serious threat to their right to education, health, work, and religious freedom.
Although the majority of the girl victims of forced faith conversions and child marriage are minors, the fabricated age of all victims is deliberately altered to 18 years or above by perpetrators on certificates of marriage to avoid criminal conviction under the 1929 Child Marriage Restraint Act according to which marriage to underage children is illegal and punishable by imprisonment, Gatestone Institute reported citing the report.
The minorities in Pakistan continue to face intimidation, harassment and threats from following up the cases in courts of law. Several girls reunited with families after they faced abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion; however, minorities are not likely to file petitions in court to bring perpetrators to justice due to the influence of the actors involved in conversion.
According to the same report, whilst all citizens in Pakistan face obstacles in access to justice, minority religious groups face even greater difficulties in the pursuit of justice.
The police often turn a blind eye to reports of abduction and forced conversions, thereby creating impunity for perpetrators. The police forces, which are overwhelmingly Muslim, generally sympathize with the goal of converting religious minorities to Islam. In limited instances of police intervention, local leaders exert considerable pressure to prevent any action, Gatestone Institute reported.
“All minor girls are presented as adults and economically independent, and their marriages are executed in the absence of a lawyer or consent of a legal guardian (parents). They are made to change their identity by changing their names.
Many cases involving abduction, followed by child/forced marriage and forced conversions of minority girls, are not reported to the police due to the stigma attached to the abduction followed by rape. The minorities lack access to justice due to financial constraints as exercising the right to fair trial involves a lot of financial resources, time, and efforts,” the report stated.
There are a huge number of examples from the report of abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages.
Huma Younas, a 14-year-old girl, was abducted in 2019 from Karachi by three Muslim men who took her to Dera Ghazi Khan district in Punjab province. Despite the valid evidence of Huma’s underage status, the court dismissed the petition in favour of the abductors and allowed the perpetrators to maintain custody of Huma, Gatestone Institute reported.
In another incident, Persicla Dilawar, a 15-year-old Christian girl, was abducted from her home in Sumundhari, Faisalabad. The victim’s father alleged that he and his wife were asleep when accused Muhammad Qasim broke into their home and kidnapped their daughter. Qasim reportedly threatened them with death if they reported the incident. Consequently, Qasim forcibly married Persicla.
Shakaina Johnson, a 13-year-old Christian, disappeared in Lahore in 2021. She was working as a domestic helper alongside her mother, Samina, and both Samina and Shakaina’s father, Johnson, believed their daughter was kidnapped after leaving the home of a family she served as a domestic worker. Samina and Johnson filed an FIR two days later.
However, the following month, they received news that Shakaina had allegedly converted to Islam and reportedly married an older man named Ali Bashir, who provided authorities with counterfeit Islamic marriage certificates.
In another incident, Shamim Bibi, a mother of five children, was abducted in 2021 by an accused named Muhammad Akbar, who converted her to Islam and forced her to marry him. Instead of registering the complaint of the victim’s family, authorities filed the claim of the abductor that Shamim had wilfully embraced Islam and contracted marriage with him.
Contrarily, Shamim refused to accept this false claim, Gatestone Institute reported.
What is noteworthy in the situation is the fact that the Pakistani government has appeared complicit in these and other crimes. It fails to provide women and children with the required legal protection. For instance, a bill to criminalize forced religious conversions has been presented in the Sindh Assembly at least three times (2016, 2019 and 2021). However, it was rejected each time.
Around 1,000 girls from impoverished Hindu families in Pakistan’s Sindh province are forcibly converted to Islam every year, the Associated Press reported in 2020.
Pakistan, according to a US Congressional Research Service report issued in May 2023, “is a country of more than 200 million people with nuclear weapons, numerous Islamist terrorist groups, and increasingly close ties to China,” Gatestone Institute reported.
According to the same report, from 2001 until the second Obama Administration, Pakistan was among the leading recipients of US foreign assistance, with Congress appropriating 11 billion USD in economic, development, and humanitarian aid and nearly 8 billion USD in security-related aid for 2002-16. Pakistan also received about 14.6 billion USD in Pentagon military reimbursements during this period.
From 2017 onwards, the Trump Administration requested, and the US Congress appropriated significantly reduced aid amounts (reaching a two-decade nadir of 87 million USD in FY2021). In 2018, the Administration initiated a broad, terrorism-related security aid suspension that has largely continued to date.
The Biden Administration requested, and the Congress has appropriated, modestly increased economic and development assistance amounts for 2022-23 — up 25 per cent and 6 per cent year-on-year, respectively, Gatestone Institute reported.
Similarly, the European Union is Pakistan’s second-most important trading partner, accounting for 14.3 per cent of Pakistan’s total trade in 2020 and receiving 28 per cent of Pakistan’s total exports.
Meanwhile, Hindu and Christian children and women in Pakistan continue to remain unsafe. They are abducted for the purpose of sexual abuse and Islamist oppression.
A reality demonstrated by the data regarding Western military aid to or trade with Pakistan is that neither military nor commercial cooperation with the government of Pakistan has had any positive influence on the human rights of religious minorities in the country.
According to Gatestone Institute, any military or economic cooperation with Pakistan should be conditioned on Pakistan’s improvement of human rights and liberties for minorities and respect for international law.
A government that is complicit in the abduction, forced religious conversion, sexual abuse, and coerced “marriages” of minority children should not be considered qualified to benefit from any aid or cooperation from the West.