UN experts urge action on coerced religious conversions, forced marriage in Pakistan
Noting Pakistan's previous attempts to pass legislation that will prohibit forced conversions and protect religious minorities, the experts deplored the ongoing lack of access to justice for victims and their families
Geneva, Switzerland: The United Nations on Monday expressed alarm at the spike in the number of abductions, forced marriages, and conversions of minor women from religious minorities in Pakistan and called for immediate efforts to prevent this crime and ensure justice for victims, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.
“We urge the government to take immediate steps to prevent and thoroughly investigate these acts objectively and in line with domestic legislation and international human rights commitments. Perpetrators must be held fully accountable,” a statement quoted the experts as saying.
“We are deeply troubled to hear those girls as young as 13 are being kidnapped from their families, trafficked to locations far from their homes, made to marry men sometimes twice their age, and coerced to convert to Islam, all in violation of international human rights law,” it said.
The experts also said that they are concerned that such marriages and conversions that are taken under threat of violence.
Noting Pakistan’s previous attempts to pass legislation that will prohibit forced conversions and protect religious minorities, the experts deplored the ongoing lack of access to justice for victims and their families.
Reports suggest these so-called marriages and conversions take place with the involvement of religious authorities and the complicity of security forces and the justice system, according to the statement.
These reports also indicate that the court system enables these offences by accepting, without critical examination, fraudulent evidence from perpetrators regarding victims’ adulthood, voluntary marriage, and conversion. Courts have on occasion misused interpretations of religious law to justify victims remaining with their abusers.
The experts also said the victims’ complaints are rarely taken seriously by the police, either refusing to register these reports or arguing that no crime has been committed. They also labelled such marriages as “love marriages,” the experts said.
“Abductors force their victims to sign documents which falsely attest to their being of legal age for marriage and marrying and converting of free will. These documents are cited by the police as evidence that no crime has occurred,” the statement quoted the experts as saying.
The experts said it was imperative that all victims, regardless of religious background, are afforded access to justice and equal protection under the law. They suggested that Pakistani authorities must adopt and enforce legislation prohibiting forced conversions, forced and child marriages, kidnapping, and trafficking, and abide by their international human rights commitments to combat slavery and human trafficking and uphold the rights of women and children.
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