A new initiative is about set to launch in Pakistan, to help tackle the growing crisis of Christian and Hindu girls being abducted and sexually abused in the country. Pakistan’s Movement for Solidarity and Peace say as many as 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and women between ages 12 and 25 are abducted each year, but underreporting and other issues with police make advocates concerned the scale of the problem could be much greater.
Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting the effort by Pakistan’s national Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), which will start a campaign to protect and safeguard the rights of vulnerable girls from religious minorities.
CCJP director, Fr Emmanuel Yousaf,told ACN that one of the most significant challenges in 2020 was a precipitous rise in cases of abduction, forced marriage and forcible conversion. “Though not new,” Fr Yousaf said, “[the phenomenon] has catalysed during the recent past, due to the lack of adequate laws and the absence of implementation of existing safeguards to protect the young minor girls and women from the religious minority community.”
The CCJP initiative to protect minority girls will include consultations with politicians and other decision makers at both state and national level, promoting community awareness about the problem, and providing legal help for victims.
Local legislation like the 2014 Child Marriage Restraint Act in Sindh, though designed to prevent the marriage of kidnapped girls by raising the bar for marriage in the province to 18, has availed little. The 2014 Sindh law, for example, has not kept courts from finding in favour of girls’ abductors.
Judges Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah ruled in February 2020 that the marriage of 14-year-old Huma Yousef (pictured, above) to her alleged abductor, Abdul Jabbar, was valid. That ruling followed a Supreme Court decision on marriages between Muslims, and was rooted in findings of fact: the court was satisfied that the kidnapping victim had converted to Islam and experienced her first menstrual period.
“We at CCJP have been documenting and monitoring the incidents of abductions, forced marriage and conversion,” Fr Yousaf said, “which have been found to be occurring with Hindu and Christian minor girls and also adult women.” He went on to say: “The surrounding pressure in courts from extremist groups, the biased attitude of police, the fear of harm from the abductor, and stigma associated force the victim to often give a statement in favour of her abductor.”
“In order to initiate and effect change,” Fr Yousaf said, “there is a need to engage both nationally and internationally to raise a voice, demand that the state takes adequate action on the said issue and also mobilise a public appeal for legislation.”