Forced conversions, marriages of underage Hindu girls rampant in Pakistan


Hindu community children busy at their religious rituals. PHOTO/Duck Duck Go

At least 1,000 underage, non-Muslim girls are forcibly converted to Islam annually in Pakistan, while laws that address the outrage are barely implemented

In a dark swirl of child abuse, sexism, religion, economic disparity and ineffective law enforcement, hundreds of underage Hindu girls are being forced into marriages with Muslim families in Pakistan per year.

But in the absence of mainstream media reporting and official data, the true numbers are unknown, and the issue is falling below the national radar.

The majority of cases are reported in Sindh, the province where the largest numbers of the country’s estimated 4.5 million Hindus live. There, the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) led Sindh Assembly passed a bill to check forced conversions in November 2016, that was shot down last year.

The proposal that no person under 18 years of age should be legally allowed to convert outraged Islamist groups and the Council of Islamic Ideology deemed the bill “un-Islamic.” The chief of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Siraj-ul-Haq pressured PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari to withdraw it.

Similarly, the Hindu Marriage Act was passed last year, which in addition to providing regulation of Hindu marriages, also addressed the issues of forced marriages and conversions. However, doubts hover over its implementation.

“The forced conversion [act] was unanimously passed in Sindh, but was sent back by the governor,” Member of the National Assembly Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the founder and patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council, told Asia Times.

“The Hindu Marriage Act hasn’t been implemented either, and the conversions continue unhindered,” he said. “But we are working with the authorities to ensure that the issue is urgently addressed.”

Many cases, minimal data

According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace, South Asia Partnership-Pakistan and the State of Human Rights report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, at least 1,000 non-Muslim girls are forcibly converted to Islam annually, with a significant percentage of these being Hindus.

Real numbers may be much higher. Members of the community note that an overall lack of data is due to the vast majority of cases not being reported. Families cite intimidation from Islamist groups, or societal pressures, as the primary reasons.

Even those cases that are reported to the police, or taken up in court, are rarely covered by mainstream media. It is the local Sindhi media that usually reports the forced conversion cases in the province.

Sindhi newspaper Daily Ibrat reported around 50 cases in 2018.

Kidnappings, dubious conversions, girls missing in ‘every other family’

A prominent and particularly egregious recent case was that of an 11-year-old girl, Monika Luhano, who was kidnapped from Hala town of Matiari district in October.

She was recovered from a prominent Sufi shrine at Sehwan. Her kidnapper, 25-year-old Mushtaq Mahar, claimed in court that the girl had converted, and the two were on the verge of marrying. While the girl and her family deny that she was converted, the case remains in court.

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