A Christian political party in Pakistan will be appealing a high court order requiring the family of a child victim of abduction, forced conversion and marriage to report to the police station every three months until she turns 18.
“Sindh High Court’s judgment is against article 15 that guarantees freedom of movement. The kid will relive the trauma in the police station,” said Akmal Bhatti, chairman of Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP) while announcing his party will appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.
Bhatti, who was speaking at a press conference in Islamabad on Jan. 5, was accompanied by the victim and her family, who are receiving security and legal assistance from MAP. “The court presumed she is not safe with her parents despite her wish to stay with them,” he said.
Last month the high court handed back custody of 13-year-old Arzoo Raja, now Arzoo Fatima, to her Catholic parents who had accused their Muslim neighbor of kidnapping her to forcibly convert and marry him in 2020.
“We are unhappy with the verdict. We are not secure in Karachi. We are living amid threats,” said Arzoo’s father, Raja Lal Masih. The victim herself has been restrained from speaking to the media to avoid further trauma.
“Kidnappers use religion to sexually abuse girls and escape charges of rape and abduction. The lower courts, police and inquiry departments become accomplices in this conspiracy. Shelter houses brainwash victims who then give statements under the influence,” Bhatti said.
Underage minority girls are being sexually exploited in the garb of religious conversion and marriage to their abductors
He said once the victims register themselves as Muslims in the National Database and Registration Authority, the challenges of documentation arise. “Parents of the victim face difficulties in getting justice in this prejudiced environment,” he added.
Christians in Pakistan have been seeking legislation against rampant abductions and forced conversions of underage girls. Every year around 1,000 women from religious minorities such as Christians and Hindus are forcibly converted and married to Muslims in Pakistan, MAP claims.
Bishop Azad Marshall, the moderator of the Church of Pakistan, called for the protection of minorities in Pakistan while addressing a press conference in Lahore on Jan. 4.
“Underage minority girls are being sexually exploited in the garb of religious conversion and marriage to their abductors. We have repeatedly called for stopping child rape in the name of religious conversion and demand that the government reconsiders its decision to reject the anti-forced conversion bill. This is not a religious issue but a matter of protection of the girl child,” he said.
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“We have provided to the government a list containing the names of children allegedly abducted and forcibly converted to Islam last year but there has been no progress in this regard.”
Abdul Hameed Rana, former additional advocate general of Punjab and president of International Human Rights Free for Minorities, said Christians in Pakistan were living amid increasing insecurity.
“Neither such kids nor their parents should visit police stations. They are already oppressed. Such restrictions are only for terrorists. We shall demand rules for the marriage of minority minors to prevent free-handedness in society. Neither constitution nor law protects changing the religion of an underage person,” Rana said.
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