An advocacy forum in Pakistan has called on the country’s parliament to investigate the growing number of abductions, forced marriages, and forced conversions of religious minorities in the country’s Punjab province. This request was made in a letter sent to the Parliamentary Committee for Protection from Forced Conversion on August 31.
According to the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), they have documented at least 74 cases of abduction and forced conversion of girls from religious minority communities in Punjab since 2014. This included 55 Christian girls, 18 Hindu girls, and one girl from the Kalashiya community.
“The abuse of religion and law is a growing phenomenon in Punjab,” a press statement by CSJ and the People’s Commission on Minorities Rights said. “Minorities feel insecure due to the incidents of forced conversions, particularly of young Christian and Hindu girls.”
“It is wrong to say that only the Sindh province is affected by the abuse of religion and law,” the press statement continued. “This misconception may be due to the fact that the Sindh Assembly passed a bill in 2016 to address the issue but that failed because the governor of Sindh refused to give assent due to pressure from extremist groups.”
According to a 2014 study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian communities are abducted, forcefully married to their captors, and forcibly converted to Islam every year. The issue of religion is also often injected into cases of sexual assault to place victims from religious minority communities at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.