Human rights watchdog in Pakistan raises concern over forced conversions of Hindu and Christian girls

Islamabad: Pakistan’s independent human rights watchdog Monday raised concerns about incidents of forced conversions and marriages of Hindu and Christian girls, saying around 1,000 such cases were reported just in the southern Sindh province alone last year. In its annual report, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said the government has done little in the past to stop such forced marriages and asked the lawmakers to pass effective legislation to end the practice.

“Around one thousand cases of Hindu and Christian girls were estimated in the province of Sindh alone in 2018. The cities where such cases occurred frequently included Umerkot, Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Karachi, Tando Allahyar, Kashmore and Ghotki,” said the 335-page report titled ‘State of Human Rights in 2018′. Stating that no authentic data is available on forced conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan, the report said that the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 has not been enforced effectively and the state’s response to forced marriages has been mixed.

“If not accomplices, police are insensitive and indifferent at best in most cases,” the report said. It said that the “minorities continued to face harassment, arrest or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs in Pakistan in 2018.” The report came less than a week after the Islamabad High Court declared that the two Hindu teenage sisters – Raveena (13) and Reena (15) – were not forcibly converted from Hinduism to Islam, and permitted them to live with their spouses.

The two Hindu girls were allegedly kidnapped by a group of “influential” men from their home in Ghotki district in Sindh on the eve of Holi. Soon after the kidnapping, a video went viral in which a cleric was purportedly shown soleminising the marriage of the two girls, triggering a nationwide outrage.

The Hindu community members took out massive demonstrations seeking strict action against those responsible for forced conversion and marriages of Hindu girls.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also ordered probe to ascertain if the two girls were abducted and forcibly converted and married. A five-member commission probed the matter and concluded that it was not a forced conversion. The counsel for the girls’ parents, however, asserted that the case pertained to forced conversion.

A Hindu lawmaker from Prime Minister Khan’s party last month moved two bills in Parliament seeking enhancement of punishment for those involved in forced conversion and for making child marriage a cognisable offence. The bills were accompanied by a resolution with the support of minority lawmakers from all major political parties condemning such incidents.

The five-point resolution called for immediate passage of the bill against forced conversions, which had been unanimously passed by the Sindh Assembly in 2016 and then reverted due to pressure of extremist elements, from all the legislatures.

Hindus form the biggest minority community in Pakistan. According to official estimates, 75 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan. Majority of Pakistan’s Hindu population is settled in Sindh province. According to media reports, approximately 25 forced marriages take place every month only in Umerkot district in Sindh province.

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