The Pakistani government is content to spout platitudes and holiday greetings to religious minorities, but continues to turn a blind eye to forced conversions and atrocities against them. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted “Wishing all our Hindu community a happy Diwali,” but his government has a dismal record in safeguarding its minority communities, including Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs.
Nearly 1,000 girls from religious minorities (most of them minors) are forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan each year, and forcibly married to much older men.
As recently reported in Dawn, a parliamentary committee in Pakistan rejected an anti-forced conversion bill, with Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri saying the “environment is unfavorable” for formulating a law against forced conversions.
Global Strat View reached out to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for comment on forced conversions in Pakistan. In an email response, they said, “The issue of abduction, forced conversion to Islam, rape, and forced marriage remained an imminent threat for religious minority women and children, particularly from the Hindu and Christian faiths. During 2020, USCIRF documented incidents of forced marriages, more than half involving minors. The government did little to ensure minor girls’ safety and return to their families. Authorities often do not take any action, and in abduction cases that are brought to the courts, officials have claimed that victims willingly converted to Islam. The head of the Parliamentary Committee on Forced Religious Conversions, Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar, claimed that most cases of forced conversion “have some degree of willingness on the part of the girl.”
USCIRF further said that “Pakistani courts systematically failed to protect and provide justice to victims, who are often forced to testify that they converted voluntarily to protect themselves and their families from further harm. In April, Myra Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian schoolgirl, was abducted at gunpoint. Despite Myra telling police she was drugged, raped, and forced to sign papers her abductor later used to allege that she was 19 and had voluntarily married and converted, the court ordered that she be returned to her abductor.”
USCIRF’s 2021 Annual Report chapter on Pakistan, addresses forced conversion in further detail. On the recommendation of USCIRF, the U.S State Department re-designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
Poonam is a veteran multi-media journalist and Editor of Global Strat View.