Desperate Pleas To Return Teenage Brides Forced To Convert To Islam
The forced marriage of two teenage sisters from rural Pakistan has caused uproar across the country and brought the issue of coerced religious conversion back to the fore.
Reena and Raveena, two teenage sisters from the city of Ghotki in the southern province of Sindh, were allegedly abducted in March of this year as the country's Hindu community celebrated the festival of Holi.
Reports of the alleged abduction first started appearing on social media -- with the girls' ages reported as 14-years-old (Reena) and 16-years-old (Raveena).
However, the ages of the girls are disputed as they do not have birth certificates and a medical report submitted to a court has determined that the sisters are 18 and 19-years-old, making them above the minimum age required for legal marriage.
Videos of Reena and Raveena's marriages went viral on social media and they were accompanied by footage of the teenagers reciting Islamic verses to the camera and declaring they had converted by their own free will.
The teenagers' husbands were both already married with children.
While the issue has now passed through a court, the judge only sought to determine the ages of the sisters and has not ruled on whether or not they were kidnapped -- they have now been returned to the custody of their new husbands.
Men from the Islamic seminary where the girls were converted to Islam celebrated outside the court after the ruling but the girls' parents remain distressed and demand their return.
Ajbi Lal, the mother of the pair, cried outside the Islamabad court after the ruling and footage emerged on Twitter of the girls' father pouring petrol on himself in the street before being restrained by a crowd of men.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called on Sindh's politicians to take "swift, serious measures to resurrect and pass the bill criminalising forced conversions."
"The ugly reality of forced conversions is that they are not seen as a crime, much less as a problem that should concern 'mainstream' (Muslim) Pakistan," the Commission said.
More than 1,000 underage girls were converted to Islam by force last year. While Pakistan maintains that the government protects religious minorities, the seven million Hindus live a risky existence as their beliefs associate them closely with India.
The Human Rights Commission maintain that the Sindh government is "morally bound" to revisit the bill criminalising forced conversion to protect these regional populations.