World News
Get all the latest news from India's closest neighbors overseas before it gets cold.

Hindu, Christian Girls Fall Prey to Abductions and Forced Conversions in Pakistan

© AP Photo / Prakash HatvalneIn this May 7, 2011 file photo, 7-year-old child bride sits in the back of a truck as she waits for the rest of her family members after being wed, at Biaora, about 135 kilometers from Bhopal, India.
In this May 7, 2011 file photo, 7-year-old child bride sits in the back of a truck as she waits for the rest of her family members after being wed, at Biaora, about 135 kilometers from Bhopal, India. - Sputnik India, 1920, 08.02.2023
Each year hundreds of children, especially girls, fall prey to forced conversions to Islam after they get kidnapped from their home.
Pakistan is home to people from all sorts of different religions and ethnic groups. The country’s population of 220 million includes Muslims, Hindus, and Christians.
Minority groups are protected by the country’s constitution. However, their safety is not always guaranteed, especially in rural parts of the country.
According to various estimates, there are about 4.4 million Hindus and 2.6 million Christians residing in Pakistan. Most Hindu people live in the southern province of Sindh, whereas Christians are spread out across all four Pakistani provinces.
The majority of Hindus and Christians live side by side with Muslims and have good living conditions with secure jobs, family network and a sense of community, as there are many Hindu temples and Christian churches in which people can worship in peace.
However, over the past few years crime against the country’s minority groups has been on the rise, especially in rural regions. Incidents of Hindu and Christian girls getting kidnapped for conversions and forced marriages have been raising alarm in the country.
Shopkeepers and workers wait for electric power at a market following a power breakdown across the country, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. - Sputnik India, 1920, 31.01.2023
World News
Pakistan's Cost of Living Reaches All-Time High as People Struggle to Make Ends Meet
Recently, human rights advocates at the United Nations urged Pakistan to act against these crimes, asking the government "to take immediate steps to prevent and thoroughly investigate" cases of child abductions and forced marriages.
Reports suggest that each year, teenage girls - some as young as 13 - get taken from their families across Pakistan. They are reportedly forced to marry men who are much older, after being forced to convert to Islam, because Muslim men can only marry a woman from another faith if she converts to Islam.
Most of these abducted girls have no way of escaping their “husband” as the police often refuse to "meddle" in such cases, calling them “domestic issues”. One such case shocked Pakistan only last year.

Toxic Infatuation

An 18-year-old Hindu girl Pooja Kumari was described by her family as a girl full of life. She loved stitching traditional garments at her home in Rohri town in Sukkur district, in the province of Sindh.
A 24-year-old Muslim man named Wahid Bux Lashari became infatuated with her and started stalking her. He belonged to a powerful Lashari tribe, who owned a lot of land in rural Sindh.
Lashari threatened Pooja with forced marriage several times, but she refused him and asked her family to report him to the police. According to the family, they approached the local police to inform them about Lashari's behavior, but the police showed no interest in helping them stand up to the powerful tribe.
Then one day Lashari showed up at Pooja’s house along with two associates and tried to kidnap her. When she resisted abduction, Lashari fired his gun. He shot Pooja dead right in front of her family.
Although the police arrested Lashari and the two associates on the night after the horrific incident, it was too late, as Pooja was dead.
A child cleans garlic in a market in Lahore on January 24, 2021. - Sputnik India, 1920, 24.01.2023
Sputnik Specials
Exploitation of Innocence: Growing Child Labor in Pakistan Raises Alarm
The case caused outrage on Pakistani social media with people demanding justice for the innocent Hindu girl who fell victim to a psychopath. However, Tweets and Instagram posts are not enough to change the toxic, patriarchal mentality that is plaguing the country.
Unfortunately, most abduction cases don’t get media coverage and the victims suffer in silence. Some reports suggest that as many as 1,000 children from minority groups get kidnapped each year for forced conversions and marriages.

Breaking the Law

Child marriage in Pakistan is legally prohibited under the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 which says that the minimum age for marriage is 18 years for a male and 16 years for a female. However, under a new Bill passed in the Pakistani Senate, the minimum age of marriage for females was increased to 18.
Furthermore, the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) passed in 2017 declares child marriage a non-bailable criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment of up to seven years and, according to the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (criminal law amendment) Act 2011, anyone forcing marriage on a woman would face 10 years' imprisonment.
Moreover, forced conversions and marriage by abduction is forbidden in Islam. So, how can they still take place in Pakistan?
One of the primary reasons is because laws protecting women and girls are poorly enforced and disregarded in many regions across Pakistan.
Poverty and economic factors also play a significant role, with young girls getting abducted to work as laborers or as a house worker in the home of her “husband”.
If a man from a powerful tribe becomes infatuated with a girl, as in the case of Pooja Kumari, he feels that he is above the law and can get away with abducting the girl from her parents. In rural parts of the Punjab and Sindh province, girls are married off at a young age because of local customs and traditions.

In one report, a Pakistani activist and rape survivor, Mukhtara Mai, wrote: “Exchange marriage or ‘watta satta’ is quite common. Young girls are married off to settle blood money, tribal disputes and property feuds. They are given away like animals.”

Tribal and cultural prevalence of girls being married off at a young age lead to issues such as forced marriages, abductions and conversions.

Deceitful Marriage

When a victim is kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, the perpetrators deny doing anything wrong as they claim the decision to convert was made consensually.
Family members say that the victim's complaints are rarely taken seriously by the police, who either refuse to register these reports or argue that no crime has been committed by labeling these abductions as 'love marriages'.
The Wikipedia logo. (File) - Sputnik India, 1920, 04.02.2023
World News
Pakistan Bans Wikipedia Over 'Blasphemous' Content
Moreover, reports suggest that the abductors often force their victims to sign documents which falsely attest to their being of legal age for marriage, as well as marrying and converting of free will.
These so-called marriages and conversions take place with the involvement of religious authorities and the collusion of security forces and the justice system. The criminals who abduct children are almost never brought forward in court as in many cases bribes are used to keep the authorities from investigating the cases further.
International and local activists have raised their voices over a lack of legislation aimed at protecting minority rights, which has made the situation especially hard for Hindu and Christian girls.

Lack of Bills on Forced Conversions

Last year Pakistan's parliamentary committee rejected an anti-forced conversion Bill after the Ministry of Religious Affairs opposed the proposed law. This occurred despite countrywide protests by legislators representing the minority communities.
Moreover, in 2016, Sindh province passed a law announcing forced conversion was a punishable offense carrying a life sentence. However, the region’s governor refused to uphold the legislation.
Although there are laws protecting women and children, there is a lack of Bills aimed at protecting the country’s minorities.
To give equal protection to Muslims and people of other religions, all the major political parties need to pass a law making forced conversions a punishable and criminal offense.

As stated in a UN report: “Pakistani authorities must adopt and enforce legislation prohibiting forced conversions, forced and child marriages, kidnapping, and trafficking, and abide by their international human rights commitments to combat slavery and human trafficking and uphold the rights of women and children.”

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Sputnik.