Pakistan's national Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) has announced it's starting a new initiative to bring an end to the growing crisis of Christian and Hindu girls who are being abducted and sexually abused in Pakistan.
With backing from Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), CCJP will start a campaign to protect and safeguard the rights of vulnerable girls from religious minorities.
Fr Emmanuel (Mani) Yousaf, Director of the CCJP, said last year "one of the most noted
challenges has been the recent rise in cases of abduction, forced marriage and forcible conversion.
"This phenomena, though not new, has catalysed during the recent past, due to the lack of adequate laws and the absence of implementation of existing safeguards to protect the young minor girls and women from the religious minority community."
The 2014 Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act raised the bar for marriage in the province to 18. However, the law has not prevented courts finding in favour of girls' abductors, such as in the case of 14-year-old Huma Yousef (pictured above).
Following a Supreme Court decision on marriages between Muslims, judges ruled in February 2020 that as Huma Yousef had converted to Islam her marriage with her alleged abductor Abdul Jabbar was valid as she had had her first period.
The CCJP initiative to protect minority girls will include consultations with politicians and other decision makers at both state and national level, promoting community awareness about the problem, and providing legal help for victims.
Fr Mani said: "We at CCJP have been documenting and monitoring the incidents of abductions, forced marriage and conversion which have been found to be occurring with Hindu and Christian minor girls and also adult women.
"The surrounding pressure in courts from extremist groups, the biased attitude of police, the fear of harm from the abductor, and stigma associated force the victim to often give a statement in favour of her abductor.
"CCJP believes that in order to initiate and effect change, there is a need to engage both nationally and internationally to raise a voice, demand that the state takes adequate action on the said issue and also mobilise a public appeal for legislation."
According to Pakistan's Movement for Solidarity and Peace, every year up to 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and women aged between 12 and 25 years are abducted.
But the organisation believes that due to underreporting and problems with police, the scale of the problem could be higher.