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January 15, 2020

Activists demand action to prevent forced conversions, child marriages


January 15, 2020

Appreciating the recent arrests of several people under the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act for facilitating under-age marriages, Christian rights activists on Tuesday alleged that authorities did not show such seriousness when minor girls from religious minorities were allegedly being kidnapped, forcibly converted and married.

“Law should be the same for all faiths – whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims,” said Nagina Younas, a Christian woman, who was addressing a press conference along with prominent rights activists at the Karachi Press Club.

Younas, a housewife from Korangi’s Zia Colony neighborhood, alleged that her 15-year-old daughter, Huma, a student of 8th grade, was kidnapped on October 10, and after a few days, documents comprising a marriage certificate and conversion papers were received at her house, tell her that she had converted to Islam and married a Muslim man living 600 kilometres from the city.

Younas said that her daughter was supposed to appear before the court for the scheduled hearings, but she failed to show up. “We, the family, are concerns and do not know if she is still alive,” the mother said.

Mehnaz Rahman and Karamat Ali, two known rights activists, reiterated their full support for the victim’s family forced into such a legal process.

Rahman, who is also an official of the Aurat Foundation, said that civil society groups had worked hard to force the provincial assembly to pass the bills, such as the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Bill. “But it is sad to say that after the passage of the bill, there is no proper implementation,” she said.

She said Sindh was the only province where the law clearly prohibited marrying children below 18 years, but in the case of Huma, an underage girl, authorities had not taken any action.

Karamat Ali, who is the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research’s executive director, stressed that the state should provide protection to the minorities and conduct transparent investigations into faith-based crimes committed against people belonging to the minorities, especially women.

Zahid Farooq, a rights activist, said that Pakistani citizens were not issued CNICs and driving licences before the age of 18 and that they were also not allowed to vote. “Then how can they be allowed to marry before that and convert?” he asked.

Kashif Anthony, an official of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) , also condemned the act and requested authorities to bring those responsible to justice as soon as possible.

Criticising the parliamentarians and advisers elected to reserved seats on minorities for keeping silence on such incidents, Jaipal Chhabria, a Hindu rights activist, said successive governments had failed to protect the minorities and brought a bad name to the country.

Huma’s family and activists also organised a protest for her recovery last month outside the Karachi Press Club.

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