Pakistan must act to end forced child marriage

UN legal experts on Monday deplored a reported rise in kidnappings, forced marriages and proselytizations of girls from Pakistan’s religious minorities and called on the government to stop such practices quickly.

“We are deeply disturbed to hear that girls as young as 13 are being kidnapped from their families, taken to places far from their homes, made to marry men sometimes twice their age and forced to to convert to Islam,” the experts said.

“We are very concerned that such marriages and conversions are taking place under threat of violence against these girls and women or their families.”

The experts called on the Pakistani government to “take immediate steps to prevent and thoroughly investigate these acts.”

Child marriage: falsification of evidence accepted

The United Nations group of about a dozen independent legal experts includes the UN Special Rapporteurs on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, modern forms of slavery, violence against women and minority issues.

Such investigations should be conducted “objectively and in accordance with national legislation and international human rights obligations.”

The experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but do not speak on behalf of the world body, cited reports that Pakistan’s court system enables crimes against girls and young women from religious minorities “by accepting fake evidence without critical scrutiny”.

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“Family members say victims’ complaints are rarely taken seriously by police because they either refuse to register these reports or argue that no crime was committed by labeling these abductions as ‘love marriages,'” they said .

Equal protection

The experts pointed out that kidnappers often “force their victims to sign documents falsely certifying that they are of legal age to marry and to marry and convert voluntarily.”

“These documents are used by the police as evidence that no crime took place.”

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The experts insisted that all victims, regardless of their religious background, must have access to justice and equal protection under the law.

Pakistani authorities, they said, “must pass and enforce laws prohibiting forced conversions, forced and child marriages, kidnapping and human trafficking.”

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