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'Forgotten law' on forced marriages fails Pakistani victims

Centre for Social Justice director calls for implementation of 2011 law to protect women

'Forgotten law' on forced marriages fails Pakistani victims

Peter Jacob speaks about forced conversion complaints and religious freedom at a consultation at Loyola Hall, Lahore, on Nov. 28. (Photo supplied)

Amid increasing cases of forced conversion of religious minorities, a leading Pakistani rights group has recommended implementation of a dormant law on forced marriages.

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 (US$3,140).

According to Peter Jacob, the Catholic director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), the proviso has not been put into practice since the law’s enactment in 2017.

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“There was no discourse in assembly or senate. Therefore, it doesn’t benefit the victims. Neither law enforcement agencies nor families of victims know about this law. All cases of forced conversions are either registered as rape or kidnapping,” he said.

“The police all over the country must investigate all pending cases and future cases under Section 498 B as this enactment is particularly relevant to forced conversion and marriages involving minority women.”

Jacob was speaking at a Nov. 28 consultation on “Forced conversion complaints and religious freedom” organized by the CSJ at Loyola Hall, a Jesuit retreat and educational center in Lahore. Hundreds of participants attended online.

According to the CSJ, 162 questionable conversions were reported in the media between 2013 and November 2020. The highest number of cases (49) were reported in 2019.

Around 52 percent of alleged forced conversions occurred in Punjab province and 44 percent in Sindh.

More than 54 percent of victims (girls and women) belonged to the Hindu community, while 44 percent were Christians.

More than 46 percent of victims were minors, with nearly 33 percent aged 11-15 years, while only 17 percent of victims were above 18 years.

In a press release, the CSJ recommended the chief justice of Pakistan to consider sensitization of judiciary and judicial officers on the issue of forced conversions.

“The federal Ministry of Human Rights 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,” it stated.

“An amendment bill in the criminal law should be introduced that makes 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.”

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