Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan Orders Investigation into Forced Religious Conversions

On December 2, 2020, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan officially mandated a comprehensive investigation into the increase in forced religious conversions of minority girls – notably Christian, Hindu, and Sikh – as cases have been occurring frequently throughout 2020.

Perhaps one of the most recent and well-known cases that has sparked both domestic and international outrage is that of 13-year-old Pakistani Christian girl Arzoo Raja, who was abducted outside of her home in Karachi by her 45-year-old Muslim neighbor Azhar Ali. Following the kidnapping, the High Court took quite a bit of time to make any decisions regarding Arzoo’s case, but on November 23, it had decided based on documentation of Arzoo’s young age as well as medical records of sexual assault by her kidnapper that Arzoo had been subjected to forced marriage, although it has not yet made a decision on the rape charges raised against Arzoo’s captor.

While welcoming the decision of the Court to remove Arzoo from her abductor’s captivity and that Mr. Ali is charged with forced marriage to a minor, the international community laments that the Court has decided not to return Arzoo to her family and instead place her in a government-run safe house until the age of 18. It is the belief of many that Arzoo has been under pressure by her captor to claim that she wishes to not return to her home and that she fears that Mr. Ali will punish her or her family if she does return.

Arzoo’s case is just one of the tens that happen every year and gather international scrutiny and condemnation. Abduction, forced religious conversion, and forced marriage of Pakistani minority girls is happening at an alarmingly high rate, and Jubilee Campaign welcomes Prime Minister Khan’s attention to the issue and order for investigations. Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, the Prime Minister’s special representative on religious harmony, stated the following:

“The PM has ordered an investigation on a case-by-case basis of incidents of forced conversions of minor girls belonging to minority communities, particularly Christian and Hindu, to find reasons for this issue. Law and rights are equal for all. Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and daughters of minorities are our daughters as well.”

“Forced marriages, forced conversion of religion and abduction of underage girls of other religions in the name of marriages will not be tolerated. The human rights ministry, in consultation with other stakeholders, is working out a mechanism to eliminate the fear of forced marriage among non-Muslims.”

Religious minority communities of Pakistan and international human rights and religious freedom advocacy organizations have welcomed Prime Minister Khan’s decision, and have urged him and his administration to collaborate with religious minority communities in order to problem-solve and foster dialogue.

Image by khalidgd from Pixabay