Church backs program protecting Pakistan’s minority girls

A FRESH INITIATIVE is about to be launched to tackle Pakistan’s growing crisis of Christian and Hindu girls who are being abducted and sexually abused.

With backing from Aid to the Church in Need, Pakistan’s national Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) will start a campaign to protect and safeguard the rights of vulnerable girls from religious minorities.

Father Emmanuel (Mani) Yousaf, Director of the CCJP, said that in 2020, “one of the most noted challenges has been the recent rise in cases of abduction, forced marriage and forcible conversion. This phenomenon, though not new, has worsened in the recent past, due to the lack of adequate laws and the absence of implementation of existing safeguards to protect the young minor girls and women from the religious minority community.”

Legislation such as the 2014 Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, which is designed to prevent the marriage of kidnapped girls, by raising the bar for marriage in the state to 18, has not prevented courts ruling in favor of girls’ abductors—such as in the case of 14-year-old Huma Yousef. Following a Supreme Court decision on marriages between Muslims, judges Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah ruled in February 2020 that, as Huma Yousef had converted to Islam, her marriage with her alleged abductor Abdul Jabbar was valid as she had had her first period.

The CCJP initiative to protect minority girls will include consultations with politicians and other decision-makers at both state and national levels, promoting community awareness about the problem, and providing legal help for victims.

Father Yousaf said: “We at CCJP have been documenting and monitoring the incidents of abduction, forced marriage and conversion which have been found to be occurring with Hindu and Christian minor girls, as well as adult women. The surrounding pressure in courts from extremist groups, the biased attitude of police, the fear of harm from the abductor, and stigma force the victim to often give a statement in favor of her abductor.”

Huma Younas (Facebook)

“CCJP believes that in order to initiate and effect change, there is a need to engage both nationally and internationally to raise a voice, demand that the state takes adequate action on the issue and also mobilize a public appeal for legislation,” he said.

According to Pakistan’s Movement for Solidarity and Peace, every year up to 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and women aged between 12 and 25 years are abducted. But, the Movement has suggested that due to underreporting and problems with police, the scale of the problem could be higher.

—John Newton