European Parliamentarians Call for Action to Address Coerced Faith Conversions and Sexual Violence Against Religious Minority Women and Girls in Pakistan

Brussels, November 7th, 2023 –   “Criminal gangs abducted, trafficked, and subjected a 15-year-old Christian girl to torture through gang rape, they coerced her into conversion to Islam and forced her to marry one of her abductors so they could evade accountability,” Mirjam Bos, expert with Jubilee Campaign shares during the European Parliament event hosted by MEP Anja Haga (NL) and Charlie Weimers (SE).


Mirjam Bos further shares how abductors often compel victims to sign documents falsely attesting to their legal age for marriage, as well as their willingness to marry and convertShe stresses, “The evidence points to a disturbing pattern of abuse and victimization of minority girls that demands immediate action.”


The fate of  Mishal Rasheed – the name of the teenage survivor –  is unfortunately not the only one and is the reason lawyers, gender experts, human rights activists, and survivors, are coming together – to discuss concrete ways to Pakistan’s political and moral will to be for the women and girls by  ensuring their full protection and that the international conventions Pakistan has ratified become a lived reality for the people on the ground. 


Rachel Morley, senior researcher on Christian persecution at Open Doors emphasizes, “The plight of these minority women and girls underscores the importance of safeguarding religious freedom and ensuring justice.”


As a background to the discussion several of the participants refer to the research study “Conversion without Consent” carried out by Voice for Justice and Jubilee Campaign. The study unveils disquieting findings: 79% of the abducted Christian girls having been subjected to abduction, forced religious conversion, child marriage, and sexual violence before reaching the age of 18. The report also maps out troubling trends involving the falsification of victims’ ages to evade legal consequences and the issuance of fraudulent certificates of conversion by certain religious institutions and political entities.


European Parliamentarians Anja Haga, MEP (EPP), voices her apprehensions: “The human rights abuses in Pakistan are deeply alarming and require urgent attention. We cannot stand idly by while the fundamental rights of minority women and girls are violated.” Charlie Weimers, MEP (ECR), emphasizes, “It is imperative that we work collectively to end the injustice faced by minority communities. Our role in the European Parliament is to raise awareness and advocate for change.”


Challenges in Pakistan:

Pakistan’s status as an Islamic state is reflected in its legal and policy framework, often favoring the majority faith. While the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the right to religious freedom, a government entity (NADRA) responsible for issuing national identity cards restricts religious conversion away from Islam. Conversion from Islam to other religions is socially unaccepted and considered “apostasy,” potentially punishable by death under certain interpretations of Islamic law.


The complex religious landscape in Pakistan, influenced by extremist elements promoting radical interpretations of religion, results in the persecution and marginalization of religious minorities. Influential religious groups and government bodies, such as; the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Ministry of Religious Affairs, have resisted enacting laws against coerced faith conversions, asserting that they are in conflict with Islamic principles.


The Role of Various Stakeholders:

Forced faith conversions of minority girls involve various stakeholders within the Muslim community, including religious clerics, political leaders, police, and judges. These conversions are often justified by the promise of heavenly rewards in the afterlife, in accordance with Islamic beliefs. Akmal Bhatti, a Pakistani Christian lawyer and politician observes that the police often demonstrates biasnes favoring influential parties while portrayingchild marriages as consensual relationships. The police are reluctant to conduct fair investigations.


Urgent Need for Action:

The issue of sexual violence and forced religious conversion against minority girls and women in Pakistan represents a severe violation of human rights. It demands immediate and comprehensive action to safeguard the rights and well-being of religious minorities. The participants put together some concrete action points addressing the European Parliament’s Role.


The participants call upon European Parliamentarians to employ all diplomatic channels, raise awareness, and advocate for legislative reforms to address the coerced faith conversions and sexual violence in PakistanJoseph Jansen, advocacy officer at Jubilee Campaign, the Netherlands, proposes the following action items for the European Parliament to consider:


  1. Organize a hearing involving victims and affected families of forced religious conversions in Pakistan.
  2. Initiate a debate on coerced faith conversions in Pakistan and propose a resolution urging Pakistan to enact an anti-forced Conversions Act adhering to international standards of religious freedom, as well as amend Child Marriage Restraint Acts to establish minimum marriageable age of 18 years for both boys and girls.
  3. Issue a letter addressed to key authorities in Pakistan, urging them to take meaningful actions to protect minorities from forced religious conversion and sexual violence.
  4. Arrange a visit by European Parliamentarians to Pakistan for meaningful discussions with key stakeholders about improving religious freedom conditions.
  5. Organize a visit by the Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU to Pakistan to assess the on-ground situation of religious freedom.
  6. Encourage the EU Commission and EEAS to have the EU delegation question Pakistan, a beneficiary of GSP+ status, and make practical recommendations.