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June 22, 2020

Forced conversions continue unabated

Forced conversion is described as involuntary change of faith identity under enticement, duress or coercion.

Around 1,000 girls from Pakistan’s minority communities are forcibly converted to Islam every year, according to a report by South Asia Partnership and Aurat Foundation. While the majority of girls are from the Hindu and Christian communities, there have been cases of conversion to Islam of girls from the remote Kalasha community of Chitral, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well. The report also reveals that the majority of cases occur in Sindh’s Kashmore, Umerkot, Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Sangahr, Ghotki and Jacobabad districts which host a substantial number of Hindus.

Similarly, according to a study carried out by the University of Birmingham, at least 2,866 cases of conversion involving women and girls were reported between January 2012 and June 2017 in Pakistan.

Moreover, from 2018 to 2019, at least 629 Christian girls hailing from poor families across the country were sold to Chinese nationals as brides. The incident gained notoriety in the media and brought to question the state’s close relations with its neighbour. Speaking anonymously, officials of the Federal Investigation Agency state that the majority of girls were forced into prostitution in China and those considered ‘unworthy’ of the trade had their organs removed and sold illegally.

Unfortunately, those affected cannot get justice because of lack of resources and protection from state institutions. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that the police usually ignore cases of abduction and forced conversions. It has also been reported that the first reaction of the local police in such cases is to delay the registration of FIR and if a case does reach the court, the investigating officers are biased towards the accused. Moreover, even local judges overseeing such cases are restrained from adjudicating on merit for fear of extremists.

Additionally, the role of religious seminaries in Sindh, such as the Dargah Bharchundi Sharif and Dargah Pir Sarhandi, is suspect. If a girl from a minority community reaches the Bharchundi Sharif seminary howsoever, she is converted to Islam and married off to a Muslim. The seminary’s head, Mian Mithu, has been involved in many such cases but has never been held accountable. If the local Muslim man who has been married to the converted girl lacks financial means, he is supported by the seminary and treated like a hero for converting a Hindu girl.

The Centre for Social Justice and Peoples Commission for Minorities Rights demands that the recently-formed Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions to hold inquiries into cases of conversion to ensure justice and make this illegal practice stop.

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