Friday, August 2, 2019
By Ayesha TanzeemA judge in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, placed two Hindu girls, allegedly under the age of 18, in government custody Tuesday and ordered a "fair and transparent inquiry" into their circumstances that is to be presented to the court in a week. The girls, Reena and Raveena, were allegedly forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men. Their family filed a police report saying they had been kidnapped from Ghotki in Sindh province, where a majority of Pakistan's Hindus live. But the girls filed a court petition saying they were over 18 and had willingly converted to Islam and married the men they wanted. They also sought protection from their family, claiming the family had harassed and threatened them. The case has once again brought to the forefront the longstanding complaint in Pakistan's Hindu community that minor girls were being kidnapped, and that conversion and marriage were being used as legal cover to protect the abductors. The community also claimed the girls were threatened with harm to themselves or their family members to give false statements in court. While the Hindu community has the largest number of such complaints, other minorities have faced the same issue. Last month, a Christian woman in the Punjab province reported that her 13-year-old daughter was kidnapped from her home by several men. Her abductors claimed she had converted to Islam and was married to one of them. Mohammad Sarfaraz Khan Aibak, the police officer conducting the inquiry, told VOA the girl had given an affidavit in court that she was 18 and knew what she was doing. He also said the girl "refused to take a medical examination" to determine her age and could not be forced to take one against her will.Abiak claimed the family did not have a birth certificate. But the family's lawyer, Lazar Allahrakha, shared with VOA the copy of a church certificate called a "dedication certificate," often used by the country's Christian community in lieu of a birth certificate. He also shared a copy of a school certificate. According to both documents, the girl was born in 2005. Pakistan law Human rights lawyer Asad Jamal said even if a girl was a minor, under Pakistani law, marriage to an underage person could not be invalidated if she claimed she had done it willingly. "The girl's statement is very important in such cases," he said. Minority communities complain that minor girls should not be allowed to make such life-altering decisions. "They are innocent. They don't know anything at this age," said Kheeal Das Kohistani, a Hindu member of parliament from Sindh. In addition, Kohistani said, there was no way to determine whether the girls were giving their statements under pressure unless they were taken away from the men who had allegedly abducted them. "They should be kept in a shelter home for 15 to 20 days, and their parents should be allowed to meet them," he said. VOA's own investigation in Sindh province two years ago showed that not all cases involved kidnapping or use of force. Some minor girls eloped with Muslim men against their family's wishes and changed their religion since marriage between a Muslim and a Hindu is not allowed in Islam. The parents often claimed kidnapping, since local police were unlikely to take action if it was determined the girls left willingly. Authorities Investigate Cases of Forced Conversion of Sikh Minority in Pakistan However, rights activists say taking a girl under 16 away from her legal guardians is illegal under any circumstances. "The law says that if a girl is under 16, if she is taken away from her legal guardians even through enticement, whether you've made her believe she is in love or lured her away any which way, the law considers it kidnapping. It does not necessarily have to be use of force," said Jibran Nasir, a human rights lawyer who follows these cases closely.Pakistan's law also says a girl under 16 cannot consent to sex. "So, if you had consensual sex with someone under 16, that is still considered rape," Nasir said.Pir Mohammad Ayub Jan Sarhandi is one of two Muslim clerics in Sindh province the Hindu community blames for most of the conversions and marriages. He told VOA that he always ensured a young girl was making her decision freely without any pressure, but said he did not agree with the legal age for marriage. "They say a girl is not mature till she is 18. We condemn this law. We do not accept it. We will never accept it," he said. Several Pakistani clerics believe a girl is ready for marriage with her first menstrual cycle. Reena and Raveena The Sindh government took notice of Reena and Raveena's case when a video went viral of their father helplessly beating himself outside a police station and asking people to shoot him. Seven people have been taken into custody for their alleged involvement in the marriages, including members of the husbands' families and the man who performed the marriage ceremony. Prime Minister Imran Khan also ordered an inquiry, which Kohistani said was a good first step but not enough. "He should come in the parliament and help make a law against it. That is what will give them instant relief," he said. https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/pakistani-minorities-kidnappings-covered-religious-conversion-marriage
The parents of a 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl who was abducted in July and forced into an Islamic marriage are now battling the justice system in an attempt to rescue their daughter from her captors. The U.K.-based charity Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement has been working on behalf of the family, who live in Lahore, after their 14-year-old daughter, Benish Imran, went missing on July 2.According to a news release sent out by the charity dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan, the girl's father, Imran Masih, registered a case under section 496-A of the Pakistani penal code at the Cantt police station on July 3. Under Pakistani law, unlawful marriages are punishable by up to seven years in prison. However, the kidnapping and abduction of Christian and Hindu children by Muslim men remains a systemic problem. At the time, the father didn't know who had kidnapped his daughter but was later informed by police that a marriage and conversion certificate had been registered for her. He was told that she would appear before a magistrate to record a statement on July 12. CLAAS lawyer Nasir Anjum attended the July 12 hearing on behalf of Masih. The child also attended the hearing with a Muslim man named Waheed Ahmed. Imran testified that she was 19 years old, which isn't true. She also reportedly claimed that she embraced Islam and got married to Ahmed on her own free will. Anjum contested the claim that she was 19, and provided a birth certificate showing the magistrate that Imran was born in October 2005. Anjum argued that a minor cannot legally be married on her own free will.Additionally, Pakistan's penal code states that kidnapping occurs when a girl under the age of 16 is taken from a legal guardian without their consent. The magistrate reportedly ordered CLAAS to register a case at the local police station against the marriage registrar under the Child Marriage Restraint Act. However, the magistrate did not formally write that order. Although the girl's statement should have been tossed out by the court because she is underage, the judge recorded her statement. According to CLAAS, authorities in the Muslim-majority country often side with Muslim perpetrators of crimes, and courts often avoid giving clear judgment because they are pressured by radical religious leaders. According to the U.S. Library of Congress, a 2014 bill in Pakistan's National Assembly to strengthen the Child Marriage Restraint Act barring child marriage under the age of 16 by increasing punishment for perpetrators was withdrawn in 2016 after pressure from the Council of Islamic Ideology.CLAAS-U.K. Director Nasir Saeed said in a statement that dozens of women and underage girls have been forced into Islamic marriages in the last few months. A 2014 estimate from the nongovernmental organization Movement of Solidarity and Peace indicates that about 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are abducted, raped and forced into Islamic marriages in Pakistan every year. “The Pakistani government must take this matter seriously and take all necessary steps to stop the ongoing forced conversion of underage Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan," Saeed said in a statement. “Pakistan must understand that it needs to improve the situation of human rights in general and particularly in relation to religious minorities. Saeed noted that freedom of religion has become an important issue on the global stage as of late. While the U.K. government recently published a report on the persecution of Christians worldwide, the U.S. State Department held its second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July. "Pakistan has multiple bilateral relations with all these countries, and therefore it needs to look into this matter seriously and bring changes where necessary," Saeed stressed. In November 2016, the provincial government in Sindh passed a law to punish perpetrators who forcibly convert religious minorities. That crime holds a punishment of up to five years in prison and three years for anyone who facilitates such a conversion. Pakistan ranks as the fifth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2019 World Watch List. In addition to abduction and forced conversion of Christian girls, Pakistan is often criticized for imprisoning dozens of people for the crime of blasphemy. Under Pakistani law, it is illegal to insult Islam or its prophet. The crime is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment. The law is often abused by majority Muslims to take advantage of or settle scores with religious minorities. As many as 40 people are on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan right now and Pakistan reportedly imprisons more people for blasphemy than all other countries in the world combined. In the last two years, the U.S. State Department along with other signatory countries have signed statements criticizing blasphemy laws, such as one in Pakistan.Pakistan is listed by the U.S. State Department as a "country of particular concern" for having engaged in or tolerated "systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.” https://www.christianpost.com/news/christian-girl-kidnapped-forced-into-islamic-marriage-pakistan.html
It was also seen that many people out of fear were not willing to get their children vaccinated. The federal government intervened and provided the polio workers with security to perform their duties.
|*March 6, 2000; **July 28, 2019; Source: SATP|