Christians protest about the child bride case involving Catholic teenager Arzoo Raja. (Photo supplied)
A state agency tasked with safeguarding children's rights in Pakistan has called on the government to introduce a new law to end forced conversions, particularly of young non-Muslim girls.Pakistan's National Commission on the Rights of Child issued a policy brief on Dec. 7, stressing the need for a new law to curb increasing incidents of abduction, conversion, and forced marriage of Hindu and Christian girls.Its chairwoman, Afshan Tehseen, said the policy brief came after analyzing the case of Arzoo Masih, a 13 years old Catholic girl. Masih was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam, and married off to a 44-year-old Muslim man in the southern port city of Karachi in October. After establishing that she was below the legal age to marry, Masih was moved to a government shelter."The issues affecting religious minorities have been given considerable attention by the media which has been quick to highlight cases of forced conversions in the past … the Arzoo case has revitalized the debate for political parties, policymakers, relevant stakeholders and society at large," the document noted.
Bias against minorities
Police are reluctant to register forced conversion cases; even if registered, they do it without incorporating the proper sections of laws. They also often fail to investigate forced conversions because of their bias, the children's rights commission said in the policy brief.The bias stems from general intolerance and hatred spread in communities against minorities.The brief called for police to be trained and sensitized on the issue of forced conversions and the creation of awareness on equal rights of minorities as enshrined in Pakistan's Constitution.Courts also come under immense pressure when dealing with such cases. When a girl is taken to court to testify about her conversion, the courtroom is packed with people chanting slogans in favor of such conversions.This intimidates the girls who become reluctant to testify and puts pressure on the judges and lawyers who may also come under immense pressure from religious extremists, the policy brief said.