12/17/2020 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – According to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN), the government of Pakistan announced it is setting up a special center to examine the forced marriage and forced conversion of underage girls from the country’s minority communities.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Special Aide on Religious Affairs, Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi, in a tweet published on December 16.
“A Special Coordination Center has been established to address the issues of minorities,” Ashrafi’s tweet read. “No one will be allowed to make panic in the country on the issues of forceful conversion and underage marriages.”
The announcement by the government follows several high profile cases of forced marriage and forced conversion capturing international headlines, including the case of Arzoo Raja. In October 2020, Arzoo, a 13-year-old Christian girl from Karachi, was allegedly abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted to Islam by her 44-year-old Muslim neighbor.
Christian leaders in Pakistan have welcomed the government’s action. Vincent Thomas, Head of the Interfaith Dialogue Commission of the Archdiocese of Karachi, told UCAN, “At times we have to face problems in reaching out to government officials on the issues of minorities. This special center can definitely help save our time and efforts, but we will see how it benefits minorities and improves interfaith harmony.”
According to a 2014 study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted every year. Many of the victims are minors. Sexual assaults and fraudulent marriages are used by perpetrators to entrap victims and authorities are often complicit.
The issue of religion is injected into cases of sexual assault to place victims from religious minority communities at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
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