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April 11, 2021

Call to prevent violence against women, children

Lahore

April 11, 2021

Lahore: A Zoom consultation meeting was organised under the aegis of Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) to call attention to the threatening issue of growing expression of violence against children and women.

The meeting was attended by human rights activists, researchers and media personnel virtually.

In the opening remarks, Peter Jacob, the executive director of CSJ, stated that violent behaviour particularly against the weaker sections of society was growing and there was a pattern in it. Various expressions of violence instil a sense of insecurity on one hand and multiply lawlessness on the other.

Justice (retd) Mehta Kailash Kohli urged the government of Pakistan to protect the rights of minorities within the institutional frameworks. He said that the parliamentary committee on protections from forced conversions had played a negligible role in providing affirmative action to uphold and safeguard the rights of minorities in the issue of forced conversions and marriages. He demanded minimum age for marriage should be raised to 18 years through amendment to the Child Marriage Restraint Act in all the provinces.

Minorities Rights Committee Chairperson Sumera Shafique said human rights and the law were abused for forced conversions which further hinder the victim families’ access to fair trials.

Moreover, the practice of forced conversions is well established and the abductors seek immunity from the initial crime of abduction and subsequent domestic violence and physical abuse charges.

She suggested protection for all relevant parties involved in the investigation and the trial of forced conversion cases – the victim, the victim’s family, lawyer, and even the judges. “The fact that abductions and forced conversions are not reported adds to the culture of impunity that benefits the abductors,” she added.

Consultant for Legal and Policy Research Sohail Akbar Warraich briefed participants about the legal and administrative hurdles that most of the victims face while fighting their battle for justice in the cases of forced conversions.

Minority rights activists pointed out that after forcefully converting; girls are often prohibited from contacting their families. Those who forcefully convert the girls influence local power structures in order to institutionalise discriminatory practices against minority communities. Throughout the whole process of pressing charges and testifying, the girl or woman remains in custody of the perpetrator of the forced conversion, which facilitates a testimony in their favour as a result of constant pressure and fear of violent retaliation. Thus, many families choose not to report cases against influential abusers due to death threats.

The participants resolved to follow up the issue as their responsibility as citizens. They urged the government to adopt effective administrative, legal, and legislative measures to curb the criminality involved in the cases of violence, child abuse and forced conversions.

The meeting was closed at the soft launch of an Urdu documentary with English subtitles produced by CSJ Badal-dou-Nam (Name without Soul), directed by Ahmar A Rehman and Asad Ali Shah.

Quoting the data compiled by CSJ on cases of forced conversions, the documentary highlighted the trends from 2013 to 2020 which showed that at least 46 per cent of the converted females were below the age of 18 which shows that these are the victims of child abuse. It showed that minorities’ susceptibility to forced conversions is related, among other factors, to social and economic vulnerability, such as poverty and social alienation and they lack proper space in education, jobs and community life.

The documentary also included the views of experts, including Hina Jillani, Bishop Alexander John Malik, Maulana Imranul Haq, Dr Akhtar Ali Sayed and Imrana Komal.