Cases of forced conversions continue unabated in Faisalabad city of Punjab province where a 15-year-old Christian girl was kidnapped last week.
Saba was kidnapped on May 20 at 9am from Rasool Park Road while she was going to work with her sister. In the FIR [First Information Report] registered with the police, Saba’s mother Rubina Bibi accused four men, including her 45-year-old neighbor Yasir, of abducting her daughter.
“I am a domestic worker. My daughters were going to work when the accused kidnapped her in a rickshaw,” she stated.
Nadeem Masih, a sanitary worker at Insaf Textile Printing Mills, accused police of favouring the abductors.
“We have been told to wait for her statement of conversion and marriage. Police claim her Islamic Nikah [marriage contract] has been solemnized. She is just a kid learning sewing,” he told Kross Konnection.
“My wife had a knee injury and our daughters were working in her place. We are poor people and live in a rented house. We are compelled to send our children to work due to poverty.”
“Yasir already has three wives and his mother is alleging that my daughter had an affair with him,” he said, claiming that Yasir’s uncle had facilitated his nephew in abducting Saba.
As per Saba’s birth certificate, she was born on June 27, 2004. She is among three Christian girls who remain missing in Faisalabad city alone.
In July 2021, 14-year-old Chashman was kidnapped from her school in Faisalabad. The next day her family received images on the phone of an Islamic conversion letter, wedding certificate (Nikahnama) and an affidavit apparently signed by Chashman that she had willfully converted to Islam and married a Muslim man.
Church leaders cite forced conversion as the biggest challenge for the vulnerable minority communities of Pakistan. Inequality and marginalization leave religious minorities vulnerable to exploitation, say human rights groups.
National Minorities Alliance of Pakistan initiated a series of protests against forced conversions and marriages of minority girls on May 23 at District Council Chowk in Faisalabad.
Lala Robin Daniel, chairman of the alliance, urged Christian groups, including ministries and NGOs, to join the daily protests scheduled from 7pm to midnight.
“Speak up, open the courts. Will the courts operate 24 hours for the serious legal issues of the common man and minorities. When will the courts play their role for the recovery of underage girls?” he said while addressing the protesters.
“It’s a big question on the high judiciary. Are these courts only for the powerful? Why don’t the same laws apply to the minorities? Down with Punjab police. We demand justice.”
At least some 1,000 women from religious minorities, including Christians and Hindus, are forcibly converted and married annually in Pakistan, Forbes magazine reported in February 2021, quoting human rights organisations.
Although Pakistan dismissed such reports as “rubbish and baseless,” Forbes said the actual numbers could be much higher as many cases go unreported.
According to Lahore based Center for Social Justice, 60 cases of questionable conversions were reported last year. The victims include 30 Christians and 30 Hindus. The highest number of 32 cases was reported in Sindh, 26 in Punjab, and one each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.
Seventy percent of the victims were less than 18 years of age. Sixty-three percent were 14 or below while eight percent were above 18 years of age.
Non-Muslim celebrities are now complaining of faith-based discrimination.
Earlier this month, former leg-spinner Danish Kaneria accused former Pakistan cricket captain Shahid Afridi of mistreating him for being a Hindu and repeatedly forcing him to convert to Islam.
However, religious groups and politicians often reject forced conversion as a hoax used to malign Pakistan and the majority religion.
In Oct. 2021, the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions rejected the anti-forced conversion bill citing the environment as “unfavourable”.