By: Saba Hussain
On March 8, a 14-year-old Hindu girl was abducted in Ghotki, a town in Northern Sindh. The incident took place on International Women’s Day when women of different classes, religions, and races of Pakistan took to the streets together. Rabia was abducted at gunpoint from her village Lakho Bheel. A first information report (FIR) was lodged immediately after the incident to rescue the girl.
Five months ago, in October 2021, an anti-force conversion bill was rejected by a parliamentary standing committee. The bill was declared ‘un-Islamic’ and the committee denied that there is a problem with forced conversions in the country. Earlier, the Sindh government had tried twice to outlaw forced conversions and marriages. Under the proposed bill, children under the age of 18 will not be converted without the consent of their parents, and those who forcibly convert will be punished. However, due to pressure from religious groups, the bill didn’t get through.
On March 16, 2022, Rabia appeared in court and her statement was recorded under PPC 164 where the girl told about her conversion and forced marriage. Despite being a minor, the girl was married but the court refrained from considering the relevant law in this regard. The court ordered a review, but instead of sending the girl to a shelter home, she was sent with her ‘husband’.
Just imagine for a second in a country where children’s sexual and physical abuse is a serious issue, what does happen to children belonging to religious minorities that are already oppressed and powerless?
One should also ask the parliamentary committee, who had rejected the force conversion bill, why does the ‘truth’ of Islam only become clear to underage girls? Why do non-Muslims have to change their religion every time for love or marriage? Why is the ‘truth’ of religion being only revealed to ‘minor girls’ among non-Muslims?
According to Federal law, the appropriate age to marry a male child is 18 and 16 for a female. Whereas in Sindh, under the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013, the age limit is set to 18 for both genders. I think 18 is an appropriate age. Because one needs to be 18 to obtain a national identity card, driver’s license, vote or sign any other agreement, why doesn’t the same age apply to marriage and changing a religion?
Besides the absence of a law that bars the marriage of a 16-year girl, kidnapping a 14-year-old girl who is still a minor and marrying her is impermissible.
To make the situation more worsen, the court sent the girl to the abductor’s house until further proceedings. This is not the first time that courts gave custody to abductors. A similar case of a Christian girl named Arezoo was also kept in the abductor’s house, ordered by the court.
Another such case in 2017 was when Ravita, 16, was abducted from a village in Nagarparkar, Sindh, and taken to Punjab where she was illegally married to a Muslim man. Historically, the court ruled in favor of the offender. An innocent little girl was sent home with her abductor even though under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, marriage under the age of 18 is illegal and a punishable offense.
In a patriarchal society such as Pakistan where women and children are already an oppressed group, minors from religious minorities are more vulnerable than anyone due to their socioeconomic marginalization. Rabia who is a minor and belongs to a religiously marginalized group, it’s double jeopardy for her and the Hindu community.