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Vicki Francis Department for International Development
Vicki Francis Department for International Development
Vicki Francis Department for International Development
Vicki Francis Department for International Development
World News

Petition to stop forced marriage and conversion of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan

by Cara Bentley

A charity is calling on the Government and the UN to use their diplomatic powers to protect girls from religious minorities being forced to convert to Islam and marry men against their will. 

Catholic charity Aid to the Church has launched a petition calling for intervention, following the case of Maira Shahbaz, a Pakistani girl who said she was bundled into a car at gunpoint, forced to convert to Islam and marry her abductor. Maira alleges that he drugged her, forced her to abandon Christianity, raped her repeatedly and recorded it to blackmail her.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) say Maira later escaped his home and went into hiding but groups of extremists have gone door-to-door looking for her as they now consider her an apostate and worthy of being killed.

Speaking to Premier, John Pontifex from ACN said: "According to one survey...up to 1,000 minority girls - Christian and Hindu girls - aged between 12 and 25 are abducted every year and that could be just the tip of the iceberg. So, this is this isn't a one off. This isn't an occasional scenario, it's a regular occurrence."

ACN is calling on the UK Government and the UN firstly to check whether existing laws in the country are strong enough and are being applied. 

Pontifex explained: "In Pakistan, it is illegal to marry somebody under the age of 16 and yet it routinely happens because, in essence, the judges perceive Sharia law, which tacitly accepts underage marriage, as trumping legal state law, which forbids it."

Finally, the charity wants reporting of such crimes to be more acceptable and to carry less shame and retribution. It says Christian girls face the 'double jeopardy' of being a religious minority and female. 

For month, campaigners have also been requesting that Maira Shahbaz is granted asylum in the UK, with it being raised in Parliament by MPs. 

This petition will be sent to the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Fiona Bruce, a Christian and Conservative MP who has also long campaigned against Christian persecution.

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