Pakistan: Campaigners sound alarm on forced conversions

Christian women pray at Mass in Peshawar  (ANSA)

Christian women pray at Mass in Peshawar (ANSA)

Source: Vatican Media,

A Catholic aid agency is hosting a press conference in Karachi today, to draw international attention to the plight of Christian and Hindu women who are forced to convert to Islam. Aid to the Church in Need is sounding the alarm on the plight of young Christian women, and even teenagers, in Pakistan.

"Every year at least a thousand girls are kidnapped, raped, and forced to convert to Islam, even forced to marry their tormentors," said Tabassum Yousaf, a Catholic lawyer linked to the St Egidio community.

Cardinal Joseph Coutts and several Muslim leaders will be among those attending the press conference.

The phenomenon of forced conversions hits Pakistan's religious minorities, especially Christians and Hindus.

In just one case, in July, a 14-year-old Christian girl was abducted in Lahore and forced to marry her kidnapper. Police later informed her parents that a conversion certificate had been registered for her.

Though current Pakistani law sets the legal marriage age at 16 for girls, ACN is pushing for it to be changed to 18.

The charity is also advocating for better legal protections against kidnappings and forced conversions for religious minorities. Families of victims often face an uphill battle in court when taking on perpetrators of forced conversions.

Today's press conference falls just before the national Minorities Day, which takes place on Saturday, 11 August.

Ms Yousaf, says the West and the international media "can do much to safeguard religious minorities in Pakistan." In addition, she called for better education for young women. "Our girls cannot access adequate education and so are penalized when they look for a job," said Ms Yousaf.

Separately, another prominent Christian lawyer and rights activist in Pakistan, Sardar Mushtaq Gill, spoke to the Osservatore Romano yesterday about the life of Christians in the country.

"The lives of religious minorities in Pakistan is marked by violence, discrimination, and the abuse of fundamental human rights," he said. "It is an old, systemic problem that has its roots in history, worldview, and local culture. The government should be made aware of this reality and act accordingly, to protect non-Muslim Pakistani citizens and to promote the rights, justice, and freedom of all."

Tags: Forced Conversion, Pakistan, Tabassum Yousaf, Aid to the Church in Need, ACN, Cardinal Joseph Coutts, Sardar Mushtaq Gill

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