ucanews.com reporter, Karachi
Updated: May 15, 2019 10:50 AM GMT
Large numbers of Hindu and Christian girls are forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslims each year in Pakistan. (Photo by pixabay.com)
A teenage Christian girl claims she was raped, forcibly converted to Islam and then married off to a 45-year-old Muslim divorcee in the Pakistani port city of Karachi.
Neha Pervaiz, 15, a resident of Ittehad Town, told ucanews.com about her ordeal.
“I was taken by my aunt, a Muslim convert, to her house on April 28 to help her look after her sick son. But there I was asked to marry a Muslim man named Imran. When I refused, they beat me up and threatened to kill my minor brother who was with me,” Neha said.
“Later I was taken to a room where I was raped by Imran. They then pressurized me to convert to Islam and marry Imran.
“On April 29, I was taken to an Islamic cleric, who asked me to recite Quranic verses and gave me a new name, Fatima.”
She was forced to marry Imran in a court on April 30, she said.
On May 5, Neha managed to escape with the help of Imran's daughter.
Jamila Masih, mother of Neha, said her daughter returned home barefoot and was very scared.
“I was shocked to learn what had happened to my daughter as I was under the impression that she was at her aunty’s house to help her,” she said.
According to Neha’s family, police were initially reluctant to register their complaint, but they were able to lodge a case on May 13 with the help of others including Pastor Ghazala Shafiq of the Church of Pakistan.
The pastor said Neha’s marriage was illegal because she was only 15.
“Girls under 18 years of age are considered minor and those doing this are punishable according to Pakistan’s Penal Code. We will fight her case in court,” she said.
Pastor Shafiq said Neha was devastated by what she has had to endure in the last two weeks. “She doesn’t want to go back to Imran and wants to remain with her parents,” she said
Father Saleh Diego, director of the Pakistani bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace, hoped that the family would get justice from the courts.
“We appeal to the Sindh government and Prime Minister Imran Khan to take urgent steps to protect religious minorities from forced conversion to Islam,” he said.
In its annual report this year, Pakistan’s independent rights body said that since 2012 religious minorities have faced sharply increased insecurity and persecution.
Unfortunately, no authentic data is available on forced conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan, but about 1,000 cases involving Hindu and Christian girls were estimated to have taken place in Sindh province alone in 2018, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
The cities where such cases occurred frequently included Umerkot, Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Karachi, Tando Allahyar, Kashmore and Ghotki.
The HRCP claimed that the Sindh government had caved in to pressure from religious extremists over the Forced Conversions Bill under which no person under 18 could convert to Islam even of their own will.
“The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 has not been enforced effectively and the state’s response to forced marriages has been mixed. If not accomplices, police are insensitive and indifferent at best in most cases,” it added.