Human rights activists are decrying the unsafe conditions for religious minorities in Pakistan, particularly for young girls who are being abducted and forced into conversion to Islam as a precondition of marriage to much older Muslim men.
Nearly 1,000 girls from religious minorities are forced to convert to Islam in the country each year. Activists say the issue has accelerated during the lockdowns caused by the pandemic as more girls are out of school and more families are in debt.
A report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom revealed that minority Hindu, Christian, and Sikh girls in Pakistan were being "kidnapped for forced conversion to Islam…forcibly married and subjected to rape." That report caused the U.S. State Department to tag Pakistan with a "country of particular concern" designation.
The frequent kidnappings are often coordinated by complicit relatives or by the Muslim men themselves, and police often refuse to become involved. Activists committed to ending the practice identify what they call a "mafia" of involvement, including Islamic clerics that sanctify the marriages, local officials who legalize them, and corrupt law enforcement that disrupts any attempted investigation.
Often those who object to the reported conversions are accused of blasphemy against Islam.