GENEVA, April 11, 2024 – United Nations human rights experts today voiced their grave concerns over the persistent lack of protection and rising incidents of human rights abuses against young women and girls from minority communities in Pakistan, particularly those from Christian and Hindu backgrounds.

The experts highlighted the alarming rate of forced religious conversions, abductions, trafficking, child marriages, domestic servitude, and sexual violence targeting these vulnerable groups. They emphasized that the impunity surrounding such crimes and the judicial system’s role in perpetuating these injustices by upholding forced conversions and marriages are unacceptable and require immediate action.

“Christian and Hindu girls are exceedingly vulnerable to severe human rights violations, and such exposure cannot be tolerated or justified any longer,” the experts stated. They criticized the Pakistani legal system, which often validates coerced marriages and religious conversions by invoking religious laws, thus favouring abductors over the victims’ rights and their families.

One disturbing case mentioned was that of Mishal Rasheed, a young girl abducted in 2022. Rasheed was sexually assaulted, forcibly converted to Islam, and compelled to marry her abductor under duress. Another recent case involved a 13-year-old Christian girl who was allegedly kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam, and married off after her age was falsely recorded as 18 on the marriage certificate.

The experts condemned these practices as gross violations of international human rights laws, which state that child marriage cannot be justified on any grounds, including religion or culture. “The right of a woman to choose a spouse and enter into marriage freely is fundamental to her dignity and equality,” they asserted.

They urgently called on Pakistani authorities to enact and enforce stricter laws to ensure that all marriages are entered with full and free consent and to increase the minimum age for marriage to 18. They also emphasized the need for laws that allow for the invalidation, annulment, or dissolution of marriages contracted under coercion, with proper care for the affected women and girls.

Furthermore, the experts urged the Pakistani government to prosecute perpetrators vigorously, enhance legal protections against abduction, trafficking, and forced marriages, and fulfil its international obligations to protect the human rights of all women and girls, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds.

The communication from the UN experts was accompanied by a press release issued earlier, urging Pakistan to uphold its commitments under international human rights frameworks, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to combat forced religious conversions and protect the rights of minorities.