1,000 PAKISTANI GIRLS FORCIBLY CONVERTED TO ISLAM ANNUALLY
Nearly 1,000 girls from religious minorities are forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan each year, largely to pave the way for marriages that are under the legal age and non-consensual, Kathy Gannon reported for the Associated Press (AP).
Human rights activists say the practice has accelerated during lockdowns against the coronavirus, when girls are out of school and more visible, bride traffickers are more active on the Internet and families are more in debt.
The US State Department this month declared Pakistan “a country of particular concern” for violations of religious freedoms — a designation the Pakistani government rejects.
The declaration was based in part on an appraisal by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that underage girls in the minority Hindu, Christian, and Sikh communities were “kidnapped for forced conversion to Islam… forcibly married and subjected to rape.”
While most of the converted girls are impoverished Hindus from southern Sindh province, two new cases involving Christians, have roiled the country in recent months.
The girls generally are kidnapped by complicit acquaintances and relatives or men looking for brides.
Sometimes they are taken by powerful landlords as payment for outstanding debts by their farmhand parents, and police often look the other way.
Once converted, the girls are quickly married off, often to older men or to their abductors, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Forced conversions thrive unchecked on a money-making web that involves Islamic clerics who solemnize the marriages, magistrates who legalize the unions and corrupt local police who aid the culprits by refusing to investigate or sabotaging investigations, say child protection activists.