Reverend Javed Gill, moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan's general assembly, speaks about forced conversions at the National Council of Churches on Nov. 5. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry/UCA News)
The Presbyterian Church of Pakistan has unveiled recommendations to tackle forced conversions after the latest high-profile case.
The suggestions were shared in a Nov. 5 consultation on Arzoo Raja, a teenage Catholic girl who was allegedly abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married off to a 44-year-old Muslim man last month.
Sindh High Court on Nov. 5 ordered the constitution of a medical board to determine her age after she insisted that she had married Ali Azhar of her own free will and that she was 18 years old.
The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, passed in 2014 in the southern province, prohibits the marriage of any child under the age of 18 and provides penalties for a male contracting party, the person who solemnizes the marriage and the parent or guardian concerned.
“The whole community is affected by the recent tragedy. The uneasiness is increasing as we witness provincial laws versus Sharia law. Both the Church and families share a responsibility to protect our daughters. Christmas can be an opportunity to address this issue in gatherings,” said Reverend Amjad Niamat, chairman of the Ecumenism and Interfaith Harmony Commission of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan.
“The first advent Sunday can focus on highlighting the honor of our daughters. The second Sunday can focus on family values, third on female role models and fourth on commitment with the Church.
“Other recommendations include a day of prayer and fasting, drafting a law on forced conversions, separate shelter homes for minority victims of forced conversions, mandatory Bible classes for all Christians, writing a petition to the Supreme Court for authentic ossification process and reviving Christian heroes in the syllabus.”
Similar concerns were shared by about 50 pastors and human rights activists at the event at the National Council of Churches in Pakistan. They cited poverty, ignorance of basic catechism and a lack of unity in the community as major reasons behind the elopements of minority girls.
The Implementation Minority Rights Forum, one of the participating NGOs, plans a follow-up consultation with church leaders this weekend.
“Bishops of all denominations will be invited to formulate a bill on conversions for marriages. The draft will be later presented to Punjab’s Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Ejaz Alam Augustine,” IMRF chairman Samuel Pyara told UCA News.