Okara: Protests erupted in Pakistan's Okara District in the Punjab province, demanding to stop forced conversions of minor girls and to pass the Anti-Forced Conversions Bill.

Earlier in January, Pakistan's minority councillors voiced their concerns over the lack of protection to religious minorities as the country is witnessing a steep increase in incidents of forced conversion, with cases rising from 15 in 2020 to over 60 in 2021, according to media reports.

More than 70 per cent of people who were forcibly converted were minor girls. Reports say every single year, at least 1,000 girls are abducted, forced to change their religious identity and are married off in Pakistan and there seem to be no measures taken in order to protect them from this criminal practice.

Recently, two Hindu girls--aged 13 and 19--along with a teenage Christian girl were kidnapped and married off to 40-year-old men after having changed their faith. This prompted a large demonstration in Hyderabad which was aimed at creating awareness about such violations that thrive under the public and state's radar.

The matter of concern is that there is no law that prevents this from occurring. The Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act of 2021 was prepared and introduced to the parliament only to have been rejected because "it would create further problems for minorities".

These are grave human rights violations--both the forced conversions and underage marriages that follow--which must be dealt with through proper laws that prohibit both. Furthermore, councils should be set up to verify, in instances of religious conversion, whether an individual is acting autonomously or under duress. Pakistan is already a dangerous home for minorities and issues like forced conversions only make it all the more hostile.

Such cases of crime against minorities have been increasing steadily in recent years in Pakistan, as per the report. The cases of forced conversion have gone up since Pakistan's birth in 1947.

The plight of women in Pakistan is increasing day by day as a fresh report has stated that nearly 6,754 women were abducted in the country's Punjab province in the first half of 2021. Out of that, 1,890 women were raped, 3,721 were tortured and 752 children were raped.

On August 30 last year, the Board of Trustees of Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) expressed concerns over increasing attacks on women in the country.

In Islamabad, there were nearly 34 official incidents of rape while 27 incidents were reported in the media. The number of official incidents of violence recorded in Punjab was 3,721, but only 938 cases were reported.