The Minority Women Forum has strongly condemned the practice of marrying underage girls belonging to the religious minorities on the pretext of converting their faith and contracting marriage of choice, saying this amounts to statutory rape under the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
“The case of Aarzoo Raja, once again, seeks the State’s attention to the multiple vulnerabilities of minor girls of religious minorities emanating from the social divisions based on class, caste, religion and gender. Various research studies explain the disastrous consequences of underage marriages on the health of mother and child and deprive the girls from seeking their educational pursuits,” it said in a press statement.
The Forum stated that while it respects the independent right to conversion to any faith, it appeals to the concerned authorities to look into the pattern of religious conversions followed by underage marriages.
It demanded strict and unbiased implementation of the Child Marriage Restraint Act particularly with regard to minor girls belonging to the religious minorities.
Moreover, it demanded enactment of comprehensive legal and policy measures at the national and provincial levels to stop forced conversions and subsequent marriages of minority minor girls and to ensure that any religious conversion is done without any pressure and with free will.
The Forum also demanded wide-ranging anti-discrimination measures, legislative, policy and administrative initiatives to protect and promote the human rights of religious minorities, particularly of minority women and girls who often become victims of abduction, rape, forced religious conversion and underage marriage.
“If no action is taken against such rampant practices, then such incidents will strongly contribute towards the spread of social divisions, distances and disharmony among communities of different faiths. Adhering to the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, such marriages of minor girls need to be invalidated,” the statement by the rights group concluded.