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Pakistan: Thousands of Christian and Hindu girls forced to convert to Islam and into marriages

Young Hindu and Christian girls in Pakistan are being kidnapped and forced to undergo Islamic conversions before being married off to their captors, according to Pakistani activists. At rallies Thursday marking the country’s National Minorities Day, protesters singled out a notorious politician and a cleric who have been aiding kidnappers and coercing courts to rule in favor of the kidnappers, according to a Pakistani group Minorities Rights Watch. Abdul Haq aka Mian Mitho, a cleric and politician from Pakistan’s Sindh Province has been repeatedly accused by the country’s Hindu minority of providing shelter to kidnappers and intimidating victims into accepting Islam. Protesters called on the government to act against such kidnappings and enact laws to protect victims. Activists claim as many as 1000 girls, many under the age of 18, are undergoing forced conversions each year with many of the cases not being reported. Once abducted, the girls generally ‘reappeared’ after three months, converted and often married, though in some cases a conversion and marriage took place on the same day. Following the 2012 kidnapping and conversion of a Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari, who later told Pakistan’s Supreme Court that she had acted of her own free will, Mitho was accused by the Hindu community of strong-arming the girl into her testimony. Despite her family’s protest, the court accepted Kumari’s testimony and ruled she should remain with her husband. "He's a symbol of terror. He's a symbol of forced conversions … and Hindus from that area, they cannot even dare to utter a single word [against him]," activist Kapil Dev told VOA News. Cleric Pir Mohammad Ayub Jan Sarhandi from the town of Umerkot has admitted to converting young girls brought to him by Pakistani men, without informing police or involving the girl’s families. Sarhandi says that once satisfied that the girl has made a decision of her own free will, he proceeds with the conversion and nuptials. Earlier this month, a disabled Christian girl and her family received death threats after she fled from a ‘marriage’ to her Muslim abductor. Asma, who was given the name Aysha by her kidnapper, was also warned by Islamic clerics that continuing to live with her Christian family deemed her an apostate and liable for death. Sindh province is home to the largest Hindu contingent in Pakistan. The legal age for marriage in Pakistan is 16, though some clerics have suggested a girl is fit to marry as soon as she menstruates. Rights campaigners have denounced these conversions as cover for the kidnappings and have called on Pakistan’s courts to enact legislation requiring the return of Hindu girls under the age of 18 to their parents.
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