The rapidly increasing rate of abductions and forced conversions, often followed by forced marriage of the underage girls to their abductor in Pakistan has recently reached alarming heights: over 15 cases have been registered by our local partners in the last 4 months alone. Many more painfully similar cases have been covered by the veil of impunity and systemic apathy among law enforcement agencies in the country. The targets of such abuses are always the socially and economically marginalized rural communities, particularly their most vulnerable members: women and children. One of such cases, in which an underage Hindu girl, Kajal Bheel, was abducted from her home at gunpoint, while her parents were away, required immediate legal assistance in an attempt to attempt to return her to her parents.
With the police refusing to start an investigation, staunchly and dubiously denying the existence of a criminal occurrence, and the court ignoring her birth certificate as proof of age, Kajal was subjected to a humiliating medical examination to prove she is a child. Despite the medical results proving she is indeed a minor, 17 years old, the court has chosen to apply Sharia Law, according to which a girl becomes a woman upon reaching puberty. Kajal’s family is now required to prove that Kajal is a minor according to Hindu Family Law during the next hearing on December 19th. For the time being, Kajal has not been allowed to stay with her family. She has been taken by her abductor, and consequently suffers constant psychological abuse. Kajal Bheel is a prisoner of the system, which is supposed to protect little girls like her, but is instead robbing her of her childhood.
To help the efforts of our local partners, and to raise the issue on the international level, GHRD started the “#SaveKajal” campaign at the end of October. As part of the international campaign activities, GHRD directed the case file, along with suggestions to support Kajal and recommendations for preventing forced conversions, to various international bodies. In combination with the official channels and with an aim of raising awareness and putting pressure on the Pakistani government, GHRD also started a petition #SaveKajal, which reached 2000 signatures in just 2 weeks. On the local level, GHRD continuously supports our local partners with the provision of legal assistance. There are currently 8 lawyers working on the case of Kajal as a result of our support.
Although Kajal has remained in the hands of her abductor for almost 2 months and her family has been constantly hitting a bureaucratic wall of an unjust system, things have recently started to look brighter. History shows that cases such as Kajal’s usually are settled in favour of the perpetrator within a month or so. The recent court hearing, where the judge refused to hear either party and, instead, postponed the hearing for the 3rd time until December 19th, proves that international pressure and attention has made, however small, the first crack in the system. It is with your help that we hope to #SaveKajal and bring the child back to her parents as soon as possible.