PAKISTAN – The Disappearing Religious Minority Women And Girls In Pakistan

Frobes | Ewelina U. Ochab | September 27, 2020

In recent months, media outlets covered a number of stories involving young girls who have been abducted, forcibly converted, forcibly married and abused. While all these stories are tragic, these cases are not isolated occurrences. They are part of a larger problem that continues to be neglected – the issue of ideologically motivated sexual abuse that targets women from religious minorities.

Indeed, recent cases from Pakistan show how religious minority women and girls are abducted, forcibly converted, forcibly married and abused, but also how their families are unsuccessful in their attempts to challenge these crimes using legal avenues. While the abductions, forced conversions, forced marriages and abuse are perpetrated by individuals, the fate of religious minority women and girls is often sealed as the existing laws or handling such cases deem any legal recourse unavailable or ineffective.

For example, the family of Huma Younus,  14 at the time of abduction, have worked tirelessly trying to get her back. In her case, the court “dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of a Catholic girl overturned”, stating that a girl is ready to marry after she has had her first period.

Another 14 years old girl, Myra Shehbaz, faced a similar fate. Her family has taken to the courts. Initially, the Sessions Court in Faisalabad directed that the girl be rehabilitated in a woman’s shelter. However, the Lahore High Court later overturned the decision and ordered that the 14-year-old girl be returned to her abductor. She has since escaped from her abductor.

Most recently, there is the case of Saneha Kinza Iqbal, a 15-year-old girl who was also abducted, forcibly converted and married to a man twice her age. Her family has been trying to get her back with assistance from Faisalabad Police, however, they have been unsuccessful.

In other cases, where the families manage to get their daughters back, there may be other challenges preventing the girls from returning to their lives, as in the case of Pumy Muskan, the then 14-year-old girl, who was abducted, forcibly converted and forcibly married to her abductor. Her family took to the courts in an attempt to reunite her with her family. In this case, the Lahore High Court affirmed that an underage girl lacks capacity to convert and ordered that she be returned to her family home. However, since then, she had to flee her home because of threats she received (as she was considered to be an apostate).