At least 700 Christian and 300 Hindu girls are kidnapped and forced into marriages with Muslims every year in Pakistan.
Whilst the disappearance of some girls is reported to police, the police have a strong tendency to side with Muslims against the, often poor, Christians, who can find themselves the targets of investigation if their kidnapped family members attempt to escape the marriages they have been coerced into.
However, in a welcome move, the regional parliament in Sindh, southern Pakistan, passed a law last week criminalising forced conversion, which will now be punishable with a minimum recommended five-year jail term. The facilitating of forced marriage where any party is the victim of forced conversion will also be criminalised, with those found guilty liable for a three-year jail term.
The legislation was proposed with the intention of protecting religious minorities, particularly under age girls from non-Muslim communities, hundreds of whom are forced to convert to Islam every year. A proposal to enact a similar law in the national parliament was stalled earlier this year.
The Sindh Parliament has a history of passing more progressive legislation than Pakistan’s National Assembly. In 2015, Sindh passed an amendment to its Mental Health Act, allowing judges to reduce sentences in “blasphemy” cases for those diagnosed with mental illness.
The southern region of Sindh is Pakistan’s most religiously diverse province. According to official figures, Sindh is still 91% Muslim, but 6.5% of the population are Hindu and 0.9% Christian, although the actual number of Christians is likely to be higher than the official estimate.
Whilst the legislation passed by the Sindh Parliament is a positive step, so long as it is properly enforced, the new laws will not protect vulnerable Christian and Hindu women and girls living in other provinces of Pakistan.
- Give thanks for the passing of this legislation in the Sindh province. Pray for wisdom for those enforcing the law, that it will be enacted properly and serve to protect vulnerable women and girls in this region.
- Pray for the national government of Pakistan to also move ahead with passing laws that will protect women and girls throughout all of Pakistan.
- Pray for the women and girls who have been coerced into forced marriages. Pray for their protection, and for them to know the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and their Heavenly Father, who will never leave nor forsake them.
- Pray for a move of the Holy Spirit over this nation, for many to encounter Christ Jesus and come to know the truth of His Gospel.
Psalm 91 vs 14: “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.”