Thousands of Hindu and Christian girls, many under the age of 18, are being abducted and forcibly converted to Islam before they are coerced into marrying their captors, according to Pakistani activists.
Last Thursday, which marked Pakistan’s National Minorities Day, a “large number” of people, primarily human rights activists, took to the streets in Pakistan to protest against the alleged forced conversions, stressing their demand for legislative action on the issue to put a damper on the increasing trend.
Echoing a report by a women’s rights NGO, activists claim that nearly 1,000 cases of forcible Islamic conversion involving Hindu and Christian girls occur every year in Pakistan, adding that a substantial number of cases go unreported.
In 2015, the NGO Aurat Foundation reported that an estimated 1,000 girls (predominantly Christian and Hindu) are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan each year, primarily through marriage and bonded labor.
“Once abducted, the girls generally ‘reappeared’ after three months, converted and often married, though in some cases a conversion and marriage took place on the same day,” now reports The Foreign Desk.
Referring to the demonstrations in Pakistan last week against the practice, DAWN reports:
[Women’s rights] Advocate Bhag Chand Bheel, Mukesh Meghwar and Pushpa Kumari who led the protest that coincided with National Minority Day urged the government to arrest Mian Mithoo of Ghotki [in Sindh Province] and Pir Sarhandi of Umerkot [in Sindh Province], accusing them of facilitating forced conversions.
They complained the government had failed to take action against Mian Mithoo and Pir Sarhandi… and called for legislation [on the issue]…
Sindh Province is home to the largest concentration of Hindus in Pakistan.
Citing the Pakistani group Minorities Rights Watch, The Foreign Desk describes Mithoo and Sarhandi, as “a notorious politician and a cleric who have been aiding kidnappers and coercing courts to rule in favor of the kidnappers.”
Mithoo, also known as Abdul Haq, was identified by The Express-Tribune as the Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians’ leader, adding that he is “an influential figure of the area, [and] is known to welcome Hindu boys and girls who wish to embrace Islam. He also reportedly provides them protection from their families and others in case they feel unsafe.”
However, The Foreign Desk points out that Pakistan’s Hindu minority has repeatedly accused Mithoo, a cleric and a politician, of “providing shelter to kidnappers and intimidating victims into accepting Islam.”
Mithoo has denied the allegations that he participated in forced Islamic conversions.
The girls who come to us are mature. Within hours of their arrival, we call their parents so they can talk to their daughters … offer them to come meet them. If the girls still refuse to go, as Muslims we then provide them protection.
Conversely, Pakistani activist Kapil Dev told Voice of America (VOA), referring to Mithoo:
He’s a symbol of terror. He’s a symbol of forced conversions … and Hindus from that area, they cannot even dare to utter a single word [against him].
Meanwhile, Cleric Sarhandi, the other prominent figure who was singled out by the protesters, has admitted to participating in the allegedly voluntary Islamic conversion of young girls brought to him by Pakistani men.
He does concede that the conversions have taken place without the knowledge of police or the girls’ families.
The Foreign Desk reports:
Sarhandi says that once satisfied that the girl has made a decision of her own free will, he proceeds with the conversion and nuptials.
The protests against the forced Islamic conversions of young Pakistani girls, namely at the hands of Mithoo, were not confined to Pakistan.
The call for protest in various Pakistani cities — as well as abroad in Toronto, New York and Houston — singled out an individual famously known by the alias [Mian Mithoo] as the prime culprit for the alleged conversions.
According to the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS-UK), a charity focused on stopping the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, blames the Pakistani government for the increase of forced conversions and kidnappings of Christians and other minorities in the country.