KARACHI: According to a report released by a Pakistani NGO namely Aurat Foundation; around 1,000 girls are forced to convert to Islam every year in Pakistan.
The report was released just recently on Monday July 13. At this occasion the Resident Director of Aurat Foundation Ms. Mahnaz Rehman, Deputy Speaker of Sindh Assembly Ms. Shehla Raza were present when the report was officially released during a ceremony. Senior journalist Ali Ahmed Khan and Zofeen T Ebrahim were also amongst those who were present.
The report portrays a dismal situation for women in Pakistan where they specifically targeted in terms of religious discrimination. As agreed upon n this report, when a person uses pressure, force, duress or threat, though be it physical, emotional or psychological with an intention to cause another person adopt another religion is “forced conversion.”
According to the facts and figures laid down in the report, approximately a 1,000 girls are forcibly converted to Islam every year in Pakistan. For the most part, the victims of theses forced conversions are girls from the Pakistani Christian and Hindu communities.
Without any shadow of doubt genuine cases of forced conversions of non-Muslim women have been on record. These conversions take place either direct conversion or by marrying a Muslim man. As a common practice, iniquitous means are used to threaten not just the victim but also are being used to pressurize the victim’s family, loved ones or community.
The report outlines two of the most common ways to convert girls forcibly to Islam. One of them is through marriage and second one is by means of bonded labour. However, there are several other vicious methods used to forcefully convert girls.
The report discusses few common factors that play a pivotal role in forced conversion through marriages.The common factors are as follows:
Girls from religious minorities are lurred or abducted, converted to Islam, by given in marriage to the abductor or third party without their voluntary consent. These victims are mostly female children i.e. below the age of 18 years. As a result, victim’s family files an FIR against the abduction. However, the kidnapper sometimes file a counter-FIR, accusing the girl’s family of distressing the girl who has’ willfully’ converted.
When the victim girl is asked to testify before a magistrate whether she converted and married of her own free will, she testifies that she willfully converted and consented to the marriage and the case is closed. All the while she mostly remains in custody of the abductor during the legal proceedings. No further investigations follow after she states that she married out of her free fill.
However, various factors cause her to speak in favour of the abductors which are:
1- Reluctance of the police to register or investigate crimes.
2- Intimidation or threats to the victim.
3-Victims are told time and again that they are now Muslim and if they try to continue practicing their original religion, they will be considered apostates, the punishment for which is death.
4. Custody of victim remains with the abductor.
5. Discrimination and bias within the judiciary.
6- Lack of protection to the victim, her family, her lawyer, her community and even the investigating officer and the judge.
7- The courtrooms where such cases are heard face severe pressure during such cases. Time and again, the courtrooms are full of supporters of the abductor chanting slogans in favour of such conversions. Moreover, sometimes people celebrate the ‘conversion’ of the victimized girl outside the courtrooms by aerial firing outside the court building.
Nevertheless, there some legal provisions for the victims of forced conversions under the Constitution of Pakistan. These laws include the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, Section 498B of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 against forced marriage, sections 375 and 376 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 against rape, XVI-A of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 to deal with wrongful confinement and restraint, Section 365B of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 for kidnapping, abducting or inducing a woman to compel for marriage etc, Section 361 of the Pakistan Penal Code deals with kidnapping or abducting from lawful guardianship and Section 364A of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 for kidnapping or abducting a person under the age of 14.