CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 July 2019

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Victim of forced conversion holds to Christian faith

KARACHI (UCAN): “I was a Christian. I am a Christian and I will remain a Christian,” Neha Pervaiz told a judge at the City Court in Karachi, Pakistan, while giving a statement on May 16.
 
The 15-year-old girl told the court that she was raped, forced to renounce Christianity and then pressured to marry a 45-year-old Muslim man called Imran, who stands accused of false conversion.
 
Pastor Ghazala Shafiq of the Church of Pakistan, who helped the teenage girl file a police complaint and initiate legal proceedings against Imran, confirmed that Neha had testified in court.
 
“During the court proceedings, the judge asked lawyers from both sides to sit outside so that the girl didn’t feel any pressure,” the pastor said.
 
The girl’s lawyer, Shahid Bhatti, said he would take the case to its logical conclusion.
 
“I have volunteered to take up this case and thank all those who are standing with her,” he said.
 
Kashif Anthony, a diocesan coordinator for the National Commission for Justice and Peace, said that a delegation of rights defenders and Church advocates met police officials and requested they assign a woman police officer to the case.
 
 “We are glad that police additional inspector-general, Amir Ahmad Shaikh, has considered our request and assigned (a) woman police officer Suhai Aziz Talpur to investigate the forced conversion and marriage of Neha against her will,” Anthony said.
 
“Imran has been arrested and we hope that he will be awarded punishment as per the law,” he said.
 
Safina Javed, president of the Peace and Development Organisation, has requested the federal government impose a nationwide ban on underage marriages and forced religious conversion through legislation.
 
In its annual report this year, Pakistan’s independent rights body said that since 2012, religious minorities have experienced a sharp increase insecurity and persecution.
 
Unfortunately, no authentic data is available on forced conversions and forced marriages in Pakistan, but about 1,000 cases involving Hindu and Christian girls were estimated to have taken place in Sindh province alone in 2018, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
 
The cities where such cases occurred frequently included Umerkot, Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Karachi, Tando Allahyar, Kashmore and Ghotki.
 
The HRCP claimed that the Sindh provincial government had not enforced the Forced Conversions Bill, under which no person under 18 could convert to Islam even of their own will, under pressure from religious extremists.
 
“The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 has not been enforced effectively and the state’s response to forced marriages has been mixed. If not accomplices, police are insensitive and indifferent at best in most cases,” the HRCP report said.

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