Brussels, November 7, 2023 - In a significant session at the European Parliament in Brussels, spearheaded by MEPs Anja Haga and Charlie Weimers, a profound discussion unfolded regarding the coerced faith conversions and sexual violence inflicted upon minority women and girls in Pakistan. The session, attended by a diverse panel of lawyers, gender experts, human rights activists, and survivors, called for urgent international intervention to end these human rights abuses.
The conversation was centred on the findings of the "Conversion without Consent" study by Voice for Justice and Jubilee Campaign, which uncovered that 79% of Christian girls in Pakistan have been victims of abduction, forced conversion, and sexual violence before turning 18. These figures come amid reports of document forgery to skirt legal repercussions and the issuance of falsified conversion certificates by certain religious institutions.
MEP Anja Haga from the EPP group condemned the human rights abuses as "deeply alarming," while her colleague, Charlie Weimers from the ECR group, emphasized the necessity for collective action to remedy the injustices faced by these minority communities. The European Parliament's role, they underscore, is to amplify these issues and push for change.
Mirjam Bos from Jubilee Campaign recounted the harrowing ordeal of Mishal Rasheed, a 15-year-old Christian girl who was trafficked and brutally assaulted. The abuse of minority girls like Mishal, which often goes unchecked due to forced signatures on legal documents, points to a systemic pattern of victimization that requires immediate address. Rachel Morley, a senior researcher at Open Doors, highlighted the desperate need for safeguarding religious freedom and ensuring justice.
The legal framework in Pakistan, reflective of its Islamic state identity, often biases the majority faith. Despite constitutional guarantees for religious freedom, the social stigma and legal threats surrounding conversion from Islam to another religion are severe, with the state agency NADRA imposing restrictions and societal norms branding such conversions as apostasy.
A complex religious landscape, mired by extremist ideologies, further marginalizes religious minorities, with powerful groups like the Council of Islamic Ideology and the Ministry of Religious Affairs resisting protective legislation. Akmal Bhatti, a Pakistani Christian lawyer, pointed out the police's reluctance to conduct impartial investigations, often influenced by societal and political pressures.
The European Parliament, recognizing the severity of these issues, is taking proactive steps. Joseph Jansen, an advocacy officer at Jubilee Campaign, Netherlands, outlined recommendations for the Parliament, including organizing victim hearings, debating forced conversions, issuing official communications to Pakistani authorities, planning visits to Pakistan for direct dialogue, and engaging the Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief. Additionally, there's a call for the EU Commission and EEAS to leverage Pakistan's GSP+ status to influence positive change.
As the situation demands immediate and comprehensive action, these initiatives by the European Parliament aim to not only shine a spotlight on the plight of minority women and girls in Pakistan but also to foster legislative reforms that align with international standards of religious freedom and human rights.