Islamabad [Pakistan], December 24 (ANI): In light of a 17-year old Hindu girl who died by suicide in October this year after she was allegedly raped last year, in Pakistan's Tharparkar district, a body of South Asian human rights groups has slammed Islamabad for unchecked forced conversion of Hindus living in the country, particularly minor Hindu girls and demanded that Islamabad must stop invasive attacks on the lives of minorities.
South Asia Collective's (SAC) "South Asia State of Minorities Report, 2020: Minorities and Shrinking Civic Space" released recently, has demanded that Pakistan must "stop invasive attacks on the public lives of citizens through regressive laws that restrict civil liberties".
"The state of security and freedom of expression remains one of deep concern in Pakistan. The shrinking space for civil society indicates the heightened threats to Pakistani human rights defenders and free thinkers," the SAC said in a report.
"They have been victims of enforced disappearances, illegal detention and in some instances murder as well. Pakistani civil society groups increasingly feel the systemic elements of coercion which operate through covert state parties," SAC added.
"Laws should remain in line with Pakistan's international commitments through the UN Conventions, EU conventions, as well as agreements on human rights with GSP(Generalised Scheme of Preferences) + and FATF (FinancialAction Task Force)," the collective recommended Pakistan to do.
"In the process, they face both physical and psychological violence and are forced to cut ties with their families. Most of these girls belong to families of bonded labourers working for landlords on agricultural land," the report revealed.
Despite the fact that marriage under the age of 18 is prohibited by law in Sindh, abductors either use Sharia law to sanctify the marriage and bypass provincial minimum age requirements or have the marriage take place in Punjab where the minimum age of marriage is lower, according to the findings.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its annual report in April 2020 highlighted the problem of forced conversion of Hindu and Christian girls, including minors. It said over a thousand cases of forced conversion and forced marriage of these girls occurred in the Singh province alone in 2019.
The SAC report stated that violence is also perpetuated against vulnerable members of the Hindu community. Hindu girls in Sindh, often underage, are abducted by Muslim men, coerced to convert to Islam and marry their abductors.
Most of the Hindus living in Pakistan reside in the Sindh province. They largely belong to the lower castes and classes. The most vulnerable districts for forced conversions are Sanghar, Ghotki, Sukkur, Khairpur and Mirpurkhas while a few cases involving Christians have been reported in Punjab, according to Dawn
"Hindu girls who have been forced into such marriages rarely get justice and the perpetrators of the crime go unpunished due to strong political influence of religious lobbyists and networks whose leaders are also members of the Parliament and include influential clerics," it stated.
The SAC report sums up the pathetic condition of the Hindus in Sindh: "Hindus who do manage to escape bonded labour still cannot access communal support. Existing prejudice, informal apartheid and discrimination guarantee that their professional possibilities are restricted to jobs as sweepers."
The SAC in a survey that was conducted among 25 renowned human rights defenders on how civic space in Pakistan has fared since the Imran Khan government came to power in 2018, reported that substantial majorities, strongly disagree with the statement that sexual minorities are able to practise their civil liberties in Pakistan; that men and women are able to enjoy equal access to civil liberties; that the poor and the rich have equal access to civil liberties; or that all different social groups, regardless of ethnicity, language, etc, are able to access civil liberties.
"Half the respondents strongly disagree with the statement that all groups have been allowed to register an association in order to advance their collective interests. There is blatant discrimination in the nature of rights that CSOs (civil society organisations) are allowed to advocate for," the survey pointed out.
The survey further revealed that a total of 89 per cent of the respondents believe that no new laws have been passed to make the operation of CSOs more difficult, with 50 per cent disagreeing and around 39 per cent strongly disagreeing with the statement.
Pakistan has been repeatedly slammed by the international community for not taking stringent measures to protect its minority communities, despite the country's Prime Minister Imran Khan vowing to protect them on numerous occasions.
In the pretext of providing minority families with a well-off and dignified life, landlords trap them into such bondage by providing loans that they know cannot be repaid. Hindus and their families are often forced to work off the debt and women are sexually abused, as per rights groups. (ANI)