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Pakistani Christian women pray at Mass in Peshawar Pakistani Christian women pray at Mass in Peshawar  (ANSA)

Pakistan: Catholic charity decries forced conversions to Islam

A Catholic aid agency is hosting a press conference on Thursday to draw international attention to the plight of Christian and Hindu women who are forced to convert to Islam.

By Devin Watkins

Aid to the Church in Need is sounding the alarm on the plight of young Christian women, and even teenagers, in Pakistan.

“Every year at least a thousand girls are kidnapped, raped, and forced to convert to Islam, even forced to marry their tormentors,” according to Tabassum Yousaf, a Catholic lawyer linked to the St. Egidio community.

To draw attention to the issue, the papal foundation ACN is hosting a press conference in Karachi on Thursday, which will see the attendance of Cardinal Joseph Coutts and several Muslim leaders.

The phenomenon of forced conversions hits Pakistan’s religious minorities, especially Christians and Hindus.

Better legal protection

In just one case, in July, a 14-year-old Christian girl was abducted in Lahore and forced to marry her kidnapper. Police later informed her parents that a conversion certificate had been registered for her.

Though current Pakistani law sets the legal marriage age at 16 for girls, ACN is pushing for it to be changed to 18.

The Catholic charity is also advocating for better legal protections against kidnappings and forced conversions for religious minorities. Families of victims often face an uphill battle in court when taking on perpetrators of forced conversions.

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Media attention

The press conference on Thursday falls just before the national Minorities Day, to be held on Saturday, 11 August.

Ms. Yousaf, the Catholic lawyer, says the West and the international media “can do much to safeguard religious minorities in Pakistan.”

In addition, she called for better education for young women. “Our girls cannot access adequate education and so are penalized when they look for a job,” said Ms. Yousaf.

Perils facing religious minorities

Separately, a prominent Christian lawyer and rights activist in Pakistan, Sardar Mushtaq Gill, spoke to the Osservatore Romano about the life of Christians in the country.

“The lives of religious minorities in Pakistan is marked by violence, discrimination, and the abuse of fundamental human rights,” he told the Vatican’s newspaper on Wednesday. “It is an old, systemic problem that has its roots in history, worldview, and local culture. The government should be made aware of this reality and act accordingly, to protect non-Muslim Pakistani citizens and to promote the rights, justice, and freedom of all.”

07 August 2019, 15:30