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World News

Christian campaigners lobby Pakistani Prime Minister to end forced marriage

by Donna Birrell

Christian human rights campaigners are calling on the Pakistani government to do more protect girls at risk from conversion through forced marriage.

ADF International says around a thousand girls from religious minorities are converted to Islam against their will every year. It also believes the practice is growing in Afghanistan and across South Asia. 

The organisation is urging people to sign an open letter to the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan  calling for better protection from the authorities and an increase in the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18.

Director of ADF International, Tehmina Arora tells Premier more  about the situation:

"An estimated 1,000 girls every year are abducted, kidnapped, and forced into marriage and then forcibly converted. These are reports that have come out repeatedly from various human rights groups in Pakistan and that's a really frightening statistic. The number of minor girls who are married off in Pakistan is among the highest in the world, according to the United Nations data. But the number of minor girls who belong to religious minorities are particularly vulnerable, because along with the kidnapping comes this forced conversion.

"Some of the girls that we've met because of the long process of working with our allies on the ground are as young as 12 , 14 and 15 years old, really young girls."

ADF International is highlighting the case of Maira Shabaz who was only 14 when she was abducted at gunpoint while travelling to her home. She was forced to convert to Islam and marry one of the kidnappers. She escaped, but is now in hiding from extremists who now consider her to be an apostate. In July, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel met campaigners who are urgently trying to secure her asylum. 

Tehmina Arora says courts do not do enough to protect vulnerable children like Maira: "This is really frightening. Sadly, the courts refused to grant protection or custody of the daughter back to the family. The courts held that Myra had been converted, it was a legitimate conversion. They found her old enough to take the decision because she had reached the age of puberty, and they handed custody back to the husband, the rapist. This is the frightening part- that the court failed to protect her. 

"The courts have failed sadly to recognise that when a girl is in the custody of her abductor rapist, it's very difficult for her to freely say that she's not in this relationship freely. She's under pressure, she's under duress, they have failed to protect these girls. It is extremely distressing."

Tehmina Arora says there have been several cases this year where the courts have failed to protect girls from enforced marriage and conversion:

"In Afghanistan, Nigeria, also many reports from families there who've lost their young girls like this. Sadly, in Afghanistan, one would not hope for any sort of legal or judicial processes that could protect these girls. But it's a tragic situation that young minor girls find themselves in across the globe." 

More information can be found here


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