By Rubina Bhatti, Canadian Aid to Persecuted Christians
The parents of a 14-year-old in Pakistan say their daughter was abducted by a Muslim man, who forced her to marry him and to convert to Islam.
Huma Younus is a 14-year-old who was taken from her home in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in October 2019. According to her mother Nagina Younas, Huma was abducted by Abdul Jabbar and two accomplices. At the time, Nagina was working as a nanny caring for a baby in a nearby bungalow.
In a video statement uploaded on social media, Huma denied being abducted, saying she went with Jabbar of her own free will. In a police complaint, Huma’s parents said their daughter was kidnapped and forced by Jabbar to marry him.
The parents were later told by police that Huma had converted to Islam after being taken to Dera Ghazi Khan, a town in the Punjab Province.
Nagina told Canadian Aid to Persecuted Christians that Huma’s cell phone is powered off. Nagina tried to talk to her politely as per police directions, but she felt that Huma was not speaking of her own free will. Huma kept questioning as to what she will do after returning home and who will marry her. “It has been a tough year for the family. We were threatened in video calls. Still, we trust God for her freedom from others.” Nagina said.
According to Nagina, the courts ignored school and Church certificates related to Huma. Police officials have told Huma’s family to accept the marriage and stop proceeding with the case.
Pakistan’s Child Brides
The Sindh High Court recently ordered another teenage Catholic child bride Arzoo Raja of Karachi to remain in a state-run shelter home until she reaches the age of 18. Raja was allegedly abducted in October 2019, converted to Islam, and married to a 44-year-old Muslim neighbour. Her parents are now fighting a complex legal battle seeking her custody and a marriage annulment of what they consider was a forced child marriage and religious conversion.
Police in the City of Faisalabad recently freed Farah Shaheen, a 12-year-old Christian girl who was abducted by Muslim men, forcibly converted to Islam, and forced her to marry. Shaheen was released by the district court of Faisalabad, but was sent to a shelter house instead of returning to the family.
“The court order left me lifeless. Christian girls are suffering in shelter houses,” said Nagina.
Church officials often blame law enforcement agencies for facilitating such crimes. Christians are demonstrating across Pakistan against the abduction and forced conversion of minor girls.
According to a recently published Center for Social Justice CSJ study (2013-20), 162 questionable conversions were reported in the media between 2013 and November 2020. The highest number of cases (49) were reported in 2019.
According to CSJ research, the Bahawalpur district of Punjab province topped the list of forced conversions with 21 reported cases last year followed by Karachi and Lahore.
Around 52 percent of alleged forced conversions occurred in the Punjab province and 44 percent in Sindh. More than 54 per cent of victims (girls and women) belonged to the Hindu community and 44 per cent were Christians. More than 46 per cent of victims were minors (with nearly 33 per cent aged 11-15 years), and 17 per cent of victims were above 18 years.
Most of the minors are married against their will. Even those who fall in love with their Muslim spouses generally fail to win respect from the spouses’ family. Despite converting to Islam, they are often referred to as “churha” (low caste) — a derogatory term in Pakistan which is often hurled at Christians who do menial jobs like sweeping the streets.
In October, Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar, head of the Parliamentary Committee on Forced Conversions, claimed that a fact-finding team could not find any proof of forced conversions among religious minorities in Muslim-majority Pakistan. He further told reporters in Islamabad that most cases of forced conversions had some degree of willingness on the part of minor girls. Kaka also rejected the validity of minority groups’ complaints saying that marriages were “contracts involving willing girls” and related to “economic circumstances.”
His statement came after his fact-finding team visited Sindh, where most of the country’s Hindus live and where most complaints originated.
In November 2020, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, ordered an investigation on a case-by-case basis of minor girls’ forced conversions and marriage.
Pakistan’s National Commission on the Rights of Child issued a policy brief in December 2020, stressing the need for a new law to curb increasing incidents of abduction, conversion, and forced marriage of Hindu and Christian girls.
According to Section 498 B of the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011, the punishment for forced marriages is a jail term of 3-10 years and a fine of 500,000 rupees ($3,140 US).
The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, passed in 2014 in the southern province, prohibits the marriage of any child under the age of 18 and provides penalties for a male contracting party, the person who solemnizes the marriage and the parent or guardian concerned. However, in the Punjab province, the age limit is 16.
A bill against forced conversions introduced in 2016 in the Sindh Provincial Assembly has not yet passed. The Sindh government bowed to pressure from Islamic religious parties which had objected to the bill.
Pastors in Pakistan suggest a day of prayer and fasting; drafting a law on forced conversions; separate shelter homes for minority victims of forced conversions; mandatory Bible classes for all Christians; writing a petition to the Supreme Court for authentic ossification process; and including Christian heroes in the school curriculum.
An online appeal by Center for Social Justice recommends:
- The Federal Ministry of Human Rights in Pakistan should carry out a comprehensive study and analysis of the issue, including under-trial cases, and the remedies, if any, provided by the concerned departments and institutions.
- The Parliamentary Committee established in November 2019 should only make statements based on factual inquiries and comprehensive data analysis and disclose the progress made by the committee on the issue.
- Police all over Pakistan must investigate all pending cases and future cases under Section 498 B of the penal code, prohibiting forced marriage. Whoever coerces or in any manner whatsoever compels a woman to enter into marriage shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term, which may extend to seven years or for a term which shall not be less than three years and shall also be liable to a fine of 500,000 rupees ($3,140 US).
- An amendment bill in the Criminal Procedure Code of Pakistan should be introduced to ensure that all religious conversions be acknowledged, verified and validated by a senior civil judge to ascertain the presence of free will, consent, in addition to the appropriateness of age and marital status of the parties.
- The Majority Act of Pakistan be amended to bring it into conformity with the NADRA Act (National Database and Registration Authority) and other laws.
- An autonomous, empowered and statutory National Commission for Minorities Rights be immediately established in Pakistan.
- The chief justice of Pakistan is respectfully urged to consider sensitization of the judiciary and judicial officers on the issue of forced conversions and the above-mentioned recommendations.