The culture of impunity and forced marriages in Pakistan

01-04-2015

The cases of Anjlee Meghwar, Kajal Bheel, Mavi Kohli, Valyan Kolhi and Rinkle Kumari are examples of a pattern of abductions, forced conversions and marriages in Pakistan, deeply rooted in the country’s history. Such systematic practice of forced marriages and impunity demonstrates the absence of justice for minorities and marginalized groups in Pakistan. Married women and girls from religious minorities represent the most vulnerable group in Pakistani society, constantly treated as second-class citizens regardless of their religious affiliation. Such treatment makes women and children, from minority groups an easy target for numerous religiously motivated human rights violations.

Abduction leading to a complicated legal affair

Five men armed with guns abducted Anjlee from her home on the morning of the 30th of October. Her sister and mother were severely beaten and threatened, unable to protect Anjlee while her father was at work. Her family immediately filed a First Investigation Report (FIR), identifying and reporting all five abductors. During the time of her abduction, Anjlee was forced to convert to Islam and marry one of the abductors, Riza Siyal, who is twice her age.

Her abductor was arrested on the 22nd of November, and an order was issued to free Anjlee from her abductor and to allow her to go home. Anjlee’s trial, which would decide if she was legally able to return to her family, or if she should stay with her abductor, began in November 2014. According to the birth certificate Anjlee is 12 years old, The medical report, however, found her to be 14 years old, while the police states she is 15.  All the indicated ages make her a minor under Sindh law. As such, she was legally unable to marry her abductor, and should have been returned to her family. However, the judge, fearing the result of the ruling would intensify religious tensions in the community, modified this order and sent Anjlee to a shelter home until she turns 18 and can make her own decision. It is unclear how many years she will have to remain in the shelter home due to the ambiguity related to her age and the judge’s use of it. While in the shelter home, Anjali faces continuous psychological abuse from its employees.

In addition to having her perform Islamic acts against her will, the shelter has also refused to grant access to Anjlee’s right to see her parents, a right that was granted by the judge yet ignored by the shelter.  In the meantime, her family has been forced to move around several times to undisclosed locations due to numerous death threats they have received to drop the court case.  GHRD has been monitoring the case closely and is doing everything in its power to protect Anjlee and her family.

Anything but a unique case

The same practice of forced marriages in Pakistan can be seen in the cases of Kajal Bheel, Mavi Kohli, Valyan Kolhi, Rinkle Kumari and many others. Kajal’s case demonstrates the unnecessarily lengthy legal process of freeing an abducted minor who is forcefully converted and wed to one of her abductors. In both Anjlee’s and Kajal’s cases birth certificates were readily available to prove the true age of the girls. Yet, the judges chose to ignore the evidence, which resulted in the girls being separated from their families. The judge deemed the girls to be adults, using Islamic Law as a legal basis to determine the status. Illegal conversions were used as a basis to decide that the application of Islamic Law is justified and appropriate. Under Islamic Law, children are recognized as adults as soon as they reach puberty, which is much earlier than what the Sindh Law states. Forced conversion is used in this manner to bypass The Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, which is designed to protect girls under 18 from forced marriages.

Both, Kajal and Anjlee, were heavily pressured through psychological abuse, intimidation and threats to publicly state their consent to staying with their abductors. Finally, the legal cases have been intentionally stretched over several months and obstructed by corrupting and/or threatening the judges, some of whom chose to recuse themselves, allegedly due to fear for their lives.

The third case is that of Mavi Kohli, a 12-year old girl who was forced to marry a 62-year old man. Fortunately, her case was conducted much faster and, after three weeks of investigations, court hearings and a medical exam, her abductor was prosecuted and Mavi was allowed to go home to her parents. However, the perpetrator was, unsurprisingly, acquitted the next day. Although Mavi had the courage to speak up despite the constant threats and intimidation, her sister, who had also been abducted, gave in to the threats and stated that she had voluntary married her abductor. She remains with him until this day.

Similarly, Rinkle Kumari has been converted to Islam, at the same madrassa[1] as Anjlee, and forced to marry her kidnapper in May 2012. These cases illustrate the failures of the Pakistani legal system, namely its inability to prosecute the madrassa. As in the other cases, the official birth certificate has been ignored in the decision about the girl’s age and Rinkle was sent away to live with her abductor during the unjustifiably prolonged process of the court hearing.

Corruption at the root of it

  • Article 25 of the Pakistani Constitution states that citizens are equal and are entitled to equal protection under the law.
  • Pakistan Penal Code, Article 361 and 363, state that it is punishable by imprisonment of up to 7 years to take or entice a minor and/or a fine.
  • The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 (No XIX) states that child marriage is legally prohibited in Pakistan and perpetrators are subject to a fine of Rs. 1000 and/or imprisonment for 1 month.
  • Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, which was passed and came into effect on the 28th of April, 2014, states that the perpetrator or any compliant shall be subject to imprisonment between 2 and 3 years and shall be liable to fine (Article 3, 4 and 5).[2],[3] 

Regardless of these laws, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1,400 reported cases in 2014 alone. However, it is thought that the actual number is over 6,000[4], since so many cases go unreported due to the families fearing for their lives and those of their children.

Public awareness about the issue of forced marriage has been increasing, resulting in local demonstrations, growing international attention and diplomatic pressure. The case of Anjlee Meghwar served as a platform for the numerous Hindu communities in the Sindh province in Pakistan to unite and protest against abductions and forced conversions. Many other ethnic groups, including Muslims, joined in the protest, which lasted several weeks. In the case of Kajal Bheel, demonstrations and seminars have been held in the Sindh province in order to stand up against forced marriages and conversions and raise awareness.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, proclaimed that forced marriages are punishable by law and that these laws will be enforced. However, judges and minors are still threatened and intimidated to protect abductors. Proper implementation of Pakistan’s legislation on equal treatment, protection of marginalized groups and forced marriage and conversions is still subject to religious interests and personal threats.

The pattern of forced conversion can be broken through enforcing Pakistan’s rule of law. Everyone needs to be protected by the law from sectarian violence; minorities and marginalized groups need to be protected from heavy psychological and physical abuse and intimidation; and, the legal system needs to be protected from religious bias and tensions. Through the enforcement of the law, forced conversion and marriage will finally become truly punishable and, as a result, the fear of the punishment will serve as deterrence in the future, breaking the circle of impunity. The necessary laws are currently in place. Unfortunately, the enforcement mechanism, more specifically the judiciary and police forces, are subject to corruption. As long as the culture of impunity prevails, so will the practice of forced marriages and conversions.


[1] institution for Islamic studies and conversion which has been used to illegally convert young girls to Islam

[2] The constitution of Pakistan, Part II: Fundamental rights and Principles of Policy

[3] Institute for Social Justice, ‘Child marriages in Pakistan’, 2013

[4] Corbin, Jane, ‘How do you keep girls safe?’ , The Telegraph, 26 January 2015 

Medical Health camp at Gazipur, Dhaka organized by GHRD

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Ahmedi Pakistani community has boycotted elections for 30 years.