Clip_151According to a report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan, at least 1,000 Pakistani girls are forced into Muslim marriages and made to convert to Islam annually.

The report found that forced marriages usually follow a similar pattern: girls between the ages of 12 and 25 are abducted, made to convert to Islam, and then married to the abductor or an associate.

If a complaint is filed, then “girls are held in custody by the abductors and suffer all kinds of abuse and violence”. Even if the case is taken to court, the girls are threatened and pressurized by their husband and his family to declare that their conversion was voluntary. And so the case is closed. Victims are sexually abused, forced into prostitution, and suffer domestic abuse or even wind up in the human trafficking cycle.

Such cases rarely end in the girls going back to their real families. From the moment the controversy begins, right up until the court hearing, the girls live with their kidnappers and suffer trauma and violence. These fragile girls are told that they “are now Muslims and that the punishment for apostasy is death”.

Many cases of forced conversions are not even reported, because Pakistan’s police and judiciary are often complicit in such crimes, and discourage minorities from taking legal action. The patterns of violence and discrimination through which the law and social attitudes become complicit in providing immunity for perpetrators, and injustice to victims, has largely become institutionalized in the country.

In November 2015, the Pakistani Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Council of Islamic Ideology proudly opposed a potential law on “forced conversion”, sparking dismay and protests among Hindus and Christians. The recently promulgated Hindu Marriage Act 2015 contains a controversial clause stating that “a marriage will be annulled if any of the spouses convert to another religion”. Rights groups have expressed fears that the clause will be misused for forced conversions of married women.

Article 36 of the Pakistani constitution says that:

“the State shall safeguard the legitimate rights of the minorities, including their due representation in the federal and provincial services.”

Article 25 also guarantees equality to all citizens.

Regrettably, the lower social status of the minority groups translates into their poor representation in the political system, which hinders their access to governance and justice.

A Supreme Court judgment of  June 19, 2014 took note of the injustice meted out to the country’s minorities. The Court observed the general lack of minority rights, and how those entrusted with law enforcement are also not fully sensitized to this issue. The judgment explains religion in broad liberal terms, declaring it a fundamental right of every person to “profess, practice and propagate his religious views even against the prevailing or dominant views of its own religious domination or sect”. It is unfortunate that this judgment has not garnered any noticeable reaction from the government.