New Delhi: European Parliamentarians have raised concerns over Pakistan’s continued persecution of Christian and Hindu religious minorities and in particular the abuse of girls from these communities.
After the forced abduction, conversion and marriage of Christian girl Huma Younus, another 14-year-old Catholic girl has been kidnapped in Pakistan, forced to marry the kidnapper, renounce her faith, and convert to Islam.
Every year more than 1 500 Christian girls and women are kidnapped in the same way in Pakistan. The judicial system seems to be part of the problem, as Pakistani courts often rule in favour of the perpetrators.
For families, obtaining the return of their children is becoming an increasingly long and complex legal battle, due to the constant tension in Pakistan between civil law and Islamic religious Sharia law, and the difficulties minorities experience in having their fundamental rights recognised.
On 30 June 2020, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Fulvio Martusciello, Miriam Lexmann, Francois-Xavier Bellamy, Massimiliano Salini, Gheorghe-Vlad Nistor, Michaela Sojdrova, Salvatore De Meo, Adam Kosa, Milan Zver and Ivan Stefanec of the Group of the European People’s Party tabled a parliamentary question to the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative (VP/HR) of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.
“The Government of Pakistan must take the matter seriously, and take all the necessary measures to stop the forced marriages and conversions of Christian and Hindu girls” the parliamentarians insisted in their statement to the European Commission.
The MEPs asked the Commission “what tools does the VP/HR want to put in place to safeguard freedom of religion and belief, including that of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan?” and “how does the VP/HR intend to tackle and solve the problem of the continuing kidnappings of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan?”
On 21 October, VP/HR Josep Borrell formally responded on behalf of the European Commission. He stated that “freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), including the problem of forced conversions, is among the top human rights priorities of the EU in Pakistan” and that “it is regularly addressed through high-level political contacts and constitutes a key element of EU advocacy within the scope of the Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance as part of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+)”.
He explained that “being a standing agenda item of the Human Rights Sub-Group of the EU-Pakistan Joint Commission, it was discussed in its latest session in November 2019, and also raised by EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore with Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari on 27 June 2020”.
VP/HR Borrell reported that “within the GSP+ monitoring process, the Commission sent a list of salient issues to Pakistan in June 2020 specifically inquiring about the adoption process of the Christian Marriage and Divorce Act, and, the implementation of the Hindu Marriage Act and the various Child Marriage Restraint Acts, given that most cases of forced conversion concern underage girls”.
He underlined that “a joint Commission services/European External Action Service GSP+ monitoring mission to Pakistan is planned to take place as soon as conditions allow”.
EU VP/HR Borrell also highlighted that “the EU has recently supported the monitoring of the situation of FoRB and provided legal aid to FoRB cases and strategic litigation under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)” and that “the EU, both in headquarters and through the EU Delegation and Member States missions, follows closely individual cases and seeks to assist through political advocacy and legal aid”.