Maira Shahbaz celebrates her freedom with social activist Lala Robin Daniel (center). (Photo courtesy of Samson Salamat)
Leading Pakistan advocacy forums have urged a parliamentary committee to investigate the growing number of cases of forced religious conversions in Punjab province.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a Lahore-based rights group, urged the Parliamentary Committee for Protection from Forced Conversion to visit Punjab “in order to take the cognizance of the matter holistically.”
The request was made in an Aug. 31 letter to the Islamabad-based committee. The CSJ also offered its assistance in carrying out the investigation. The letter was enclosed with a list of forced conversions in Punjab.
According to the NGO, 74 cases of forced conversion of minority girls — 55 Christian, 18 Hindu and one Kalashiya — have been reported since 2014.
These included 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz, who was abducted at gunpoint in April and forced to marry a Muslim resident of Faisalabad district in Punjab. She is now living in hiding in with her family after escaping from her Muslim abductor who forced her to change her faith.
The parliamentary committee has appointed Senator Anwar ul Haq Kakar as its chairperson.
Last month the committee held a meeting where Shireen Mazari, chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology and minister for human rights, briefed members, who decided to carry out a fact-finding visit to Sindh province.
“The abuse of religion and law is a growing phenomenon in Punjab. The minorities feel insecure due to the incidents of forced conversions, particularly of young Christian and Hindu girls. This is a long-standing human rights concern,” said the CSJ and the People's Commission on Minorities Rights in a press release issued on Sept. 1.
“It is wrong to say that only Sindh province is affected by the abuse of religion and law. This misconception may be due to the fact that Sindh Assembly passed a bill in 2016 to address the issue that failed because the governor of Sindh refused to give assent due to pressure from extremist groups.”
Both the Hindu and Christian communities in Sindh and Punjab reported cases of forced conversions last year. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan claims that in 2018 in Sindh province alone around 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls got married under the legal age of 18.