A large number of Christian community members and civil society activists gathered outside the Karachi Press Club on Saturday to protest the alleged abduction and conversion of an underage Christian girl, and demanded of the government a law against the growing practice targeting religious minority girls.
The protesters carried banners and placards inscribed with slogans against alleged atrocities against the minority community in Sindh.
“Stop the forced conversions of Christian girls after their kidnappings,” “Forced conversion is not an Islamic ideology”, and “Please let us live peacefully” were some of the slogans written on the placards. The participants also chanted slogans for the protection of womenfolk of the minority communities.
They claimed that a teenage Christian girl, Arzoo Masih, was kidnapped and forced to marry her Muslim abductor in an area in the Frere police station.
“We have proper evidence from Nadra that Arzoo is a 13-year-old who has been forced to be married to a 44-year-old man,” said Anthony Naveed, a minority MPA and leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, who also attended the protest.
He complained that the police were allegedly not doing much in the case. “We have asked the police to include the Child Marriage Restraint Act [in the FIR}, but the police are reluctant to include it,” Naveed told The News.
The Sindh Assembly had passed the act in 2014, according to which the minimum age of marriage is 18 years and making a person younger than that age marry is a punishable offense.
Naveed said that it was the second case of forced conversion of underage Christian girls in Karachi in one year. In October last year, a 14-year-old daughter, Huma Yunas, was kidnapped and converted to Islam.
Zahid Farooq, a minority rights activist, who was also among the protesters, how a minor, before the age of 18, could be making big decisions such as changing his or her religion or finding a life partner.
“Why can’t these children be allowed to enjoy their childhood?”
Safina Javed, a minority rights activist who organised several protests to stop forced conversions in the past, said community members were tired of threats and pressures put on them for just being part of a religious minority.
Pastor Ghazala Shafiqu said the police had not been investigating the incident and were reluctant to arrest the culprits.
Asad Iqbal Butt, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s vice-chairperson, said forced conversions of minor girls had become a major tool for the persecution of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan and particularly in Sind.
Minority rights activists Jaipal Chhabria, William Sadiq, Nasir Raza, civil society activists Sheema Kermani, Karamat Ali, Mahnaz Rahman, Saeed Baloch and other also attended the protest.