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Rights groups slam Pakistan senator's forced conversion denial

There's no evidence that Christian and Hindu women are forced to convert and marry Muslim men, he says

Rights groups slam Pakistan senator's forced conversion denial

Rights groups have condemned a Pakistani senator's claim that a fact-finding team led by him could not find any proof of forced conversions among religious minorities in the Muslim-majority nation.

Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar is head of a parliamentary committee set up to look into the increasing incidents of Muslim men kidnapping Hindu and Christian girls and forcefully converting and marrying them.

"The committee, which also included members from other religions, did not find any trace of kidnapping and illegal confinement of Hindu girls who later gave statements in court. Most cases of forced conversions had some degree of willingness on the part of the girl," Kakar told reporters earlier this week in Islamabad.

The Parliamentary Committee on Forced Conversions chief, rejected the validity of minority groups' complaints. He said the marriages were "contracts involving willing girls and due to economic circumstances."

His statement came after the fact-finding team visited Sindh, where most of the country's Hindus live and where most complaints came from.

The comments drew swift condemnation from rights groups. 

Kakar's statement "would be tantamount to covering up the multiple crimes linked with forced conversion and encouraging more violations," said the Peoples' Commission for Minorities Rights, a Lahore based forum of rights groups.

It said it had "serious reservations about the way the investigation was conducted in Sindh. Moreover, the parliamentary committee's analysis of the situation raises doubts about their comprehension of the issue."

Recent court judgments "will suffice to prove that the committee has come to inapt conclusions on the issue," the rights group said in a press statement on Oct. 21.

Some 1,000 Christian and Hindu women, most of them minors, are forced to convert and marry Muslim men in Pakistan each year, according to a 2014 report released by rights group the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan.
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Up to 700 of these women are Christian and 300 Hindu, according to the report.

In the latest reported case, 13-year-old Arzoo Masih from Karachi was kidnapped, her family said last week. The Catholic teenager was forcibly converted before her 44-year-old Muslim kidnapper married her, they told media.

The parliamentary committee was set up 11 months ago to probe these alleged violations.

But if it produces "such a denial of facts, we would like to question what steps were taken to make the committee's probe independent, transparent, comprehensive and rigorous," the Peoples' Commission for Minorities Rights said.

It said Pakistan was "tarnished by gross human rights violations" and needs to end "such blatant denials to construct a positive image."

It also urged the committee to adopt "serious, in-depth, and comprehensive fact-finding on the issue involving genuine stakeholders in the process."

The committee's work "could have helped restore peoples' confidence in parliamentary processes," but it "stands jeopardized at the moment," the coalition of rights groups said.

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