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World News

MPs launch inquiry into forced marriage and religious conversion of Christian girls in Pakistan

by Tola Mbakwe

MPs are taking a stand against forced marriage and religious conversion of young Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan. 

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Pakistani Minorities said every week girls are abducted, forced to convert to Islam and then marry their abductor in the country. 

Chairman of the group, Christian DUP MP Jim Shannon said: "Nobody should ever feel forced or coerced into unwanted marriage or religion, nor should the already oppressed and marginalised religious community's most vulnerable members - girls - be abused and sexually exploited.

"We feel it's time to highlight this matter, to raise awareness and to seek,  not just words from the Pakistan government nationally, but also regionally where some people think they can abuse the law and do whatever they want. No they can't and it's time we brought it to people's attention."

The inquiry will help identify the weaknesses in Pakistani law and in the implementation of law, and recommend practical solutions.

It will also analyse the effects of the abductions on the girls, their families and their communities. 

The APPG said about 1,000 girls and women from religious minorities, mainly Christian and Hindu, are abducted, forcibly converted and forcibly married in Pakistan, each year.

There are reports that some of the victims are divorced and abandoned after a few years, and others are trafficked for sexual exploitation. 

Last month, more than 8,500 signed a petition urging the British government to grant asylum to a young Pakistani girl who was abducted, raped and forced to convert to Islam. 

Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need said 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz (pictured above) is at risk of being killed for apostasy if she is not granted a safe haven outside of her native country. 

She was kidnapped at gunpoint close to her home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad, back in April. She says that her abductors - three men - drugged and then raped her. Maira said that her tormentors filmed the rape and used it as blackmail, forcing her to marry a Muslim man and convert to Islam.

She fled her captor, Mohamad Nakash Tariq, in August after Lahore's High Court ruled that she must stay with him and be a "good wife". She's now in hiding. 

"My goodness, does your heart not break for that? My heart breaks," Mr Shannon told Premier. 

"We want to make sure that anybody who does this will be accountable under the law and will go to jail. I'm not trying to tell Pakistan how to run their government. But I'm talking about human rights and equalities and just natural justice for those people who don't have it today in Pakistan."

Listen to Premier's interview with Jim Shannon here:

 

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