Pakistan rights group raises concern over forced conversions

Members of the Working Group on "Communities Vulnerable Because of Their Beliefs" of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said they had documented an instance where a magistrate recorded the statement of the 12-year-old girl that she had voluntarily converted to Islam despite objections by her family's lawyer that she was a minor.

The incident was mentioned in HRCP's "State of Human Rights" report for 2010.
However, the report did not state where the incident had occurred or give further details.
The report described forced conversions as "one of the biggest concerns for minority and vulnerable communities in Pakistan for many years".

It noted that the Standing Committee on Minorities Affairs of the Senate or upper house of parliament had expressed concern over the abduction and forcible conversion of Hindu girls in Sindh province in October last year and demanded concrete measures to stop such conversions.

Members of HRCP's Working Group said that courts asked to adjudicate on matters of forcible conversion "invariably came under immense public pressure, with courtrooms often packed with slogan-chanting zealots".

The Working Group highlighted instances of forced conversions of young girls in Karachi and elsewhere in Sindh.

"They said that conversions were not a Sindh-specific issue and were not confined to any particular gender, faith or locality.

"At times conversion of a girl from a minority faith began with her abduction and/or rape," the report said.

"A claim was later made that the girl had converted to Islam, married a Muslim and did not want to return to her family," the report added.

Members of the Working Group said that in such cases, the courts seldom decided matters of the custody of the abducted girls in the family's favour even if the girls involved were not older than 12 or 13 years.

The report further noted that some segments of society like women and lower caste Hindus "suffered discrimination and violence from within their communities as well as from the majority Muslim population".

In March last year, the HRCP had expressed concern at the illegal eviction of Hindus in Tharparkar area of Sindh by gangsters who are "allegedly supported by agents of the state". At that time, the organisation had noted that there were complaints of "young Hindu girls being forcibly converted and migration of religious minority communities is taking place from Sindh and the northwestern tribal belt because of a climate of fear especially directed at them".

The HRCP also noted in its annual report that a parliamentarian had informed the Senate's Standing Committee on Minorities Affairs in October last year that 500 Hindu families from Balochistan province had migrated to India because of threats to their lives and security.

Several members of the Hindu community became victims of abduction and violence in Balochistan, where they had lived in "relative safety for generations", the report said.
According to a reliable estimate, Pakistan is home to about 3.5 million Hindus, who make up about two per cent of the population of the Muslim-majority country of some 180 million

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