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100 Christians faced faith conversion, child marriage in three years: report

LAHORE: As many as 100 cases of abduction, forced faith conversion, forced and child marriage of girls and women belonging to the Christian community have been reported since January 2019 to October 2022 in Pakistan, says a report titled “Conversion without Consent” released by Voice for Justice (VFJ) and Jubilee Campaign.

According to the report released on Saturday, as many as 27 cases were recorded in 2019, 12 in 2020, 42 in 2021 and 19 till October 2022. The data showed that the highest number of cases – 86 – were reported in Punjab, followed by 11 in Sindh, two in Islamabad and one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, whereas no case was reported in Balochistan.

The report also includes the renowned cases of underage girls particularly Zarvia Parvaiz, Saba Nadeem, Chashman Kanwal and Sunaina James who became victims of forced faith conversions.

Zarvia Parvaiz told the court that she was heavily drugged, raped, beaten with a stick, burnt with cigarettes, and electrocuted by her abductors.

Saba Nadeem testified that “she was abducted and raped, and the perpetrator took her thumb impression on the certificate of marriage and conversion against her free will and consent, and threatened her with dire consequences if she revealed the assault to anyone.”

The report shows that 61 per cent of girls were targeted before reaching 16 years of age, 18pc became victims between the age of 16 and 18 years and 14pc became victims above 18 years of age and the ages of seven victims were not ascertained.

The data reveals that 67pc of the cases were reported in the five districts alone – Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, and Sheikhupura from Punjab and Karachi from Sindh – which exhibit a high rate of cases of underage minorities girls.

The report reveals that the majority of the girl victims of forced faith conversions and child marriage are minors, however, the fabricated age of all victims is deliberately altered to 18 years or above by perpetrators on certificates of marriage to avoid criminal conviction under the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 according to which marriage to an underage child is illegal and punishable by imprisonment.

All minor girls are presented as adults and economically independent and their marriages are executed in the absence of a lawyer or consent of a legal guardian (parents).

The report concludes that child brides have a greater likelihood of school dropout, health-related complications, lower labour force participation and earnings, and little decision-making power within the family.

The abduction of schoolgirls hinders their access to opportunities such as education, skill development, and employment, all of which are essential for leading a dignified and self-sufficient life.

The report recommends that an affirmative action must be taken for the protection, promotion, and fulfillment of minority rights, particularly in the context of reforming the existing civil and criminal justice system to render it more sensitive to the needs of victims of forced conversions and their families.

Moreover, the authorities must ensure that the observance of a state religion neither impairs the enjoyment of any human rights or any minority religion, nor results in discrimination in law, policy, and jurisprudence against those who profess a faith or set of beliefs contrary to the majority religion.

Source: Dawn