ISLAMABAD -- An independent rights watchdog on Monday raised concerns about incidents in Pakistan of forced conversions and marriages of girls from the country's minority Hindu and Christian community to Muslim men.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in it annual report said lawmakers need to pass effective legislation to end the practice — the extent of which remains unclear. It said around 1,000 cases of forced conversion of Hindu and Christian girls were reported just in the southern Sindh province last year. In some cases, it said the girls were recovered on court orders, but the situation in general remained appalling.
"Unfortunately, no authentic data is available on forced conversions" and marriages in Pakistan, the report said.
Ghazi Salahuddin, a senior member of the watchdog, said Pakistani media have also faced "unprecedented curbs" in the previous year. However, he did not answer a direct question when asked whether the army was behind imposing such curbs on the press.
The 335-page "State of Human Rights in 2018," released in the capital, Islamabad, is considered a report card of sorts on Pakistan, where Hindus, Christians and Sikhs and Ahmadis are tiny minorities.
The rights overview came out less than a week after a Pakistani court allowed two sisters from the Hindu community to live with their Muslim husbands, rejecting allegations from their parents saying their daughters were abducted and forcibly married.
The case of the sisters from the southern Sindh province drew the attention of Prime Minister Imran Khan, who ordered a government probe.
The investigations concluded the girls were 18 and 19 and that they were not forced to change their religion.
Joseph Francis, a senior member of the watchdog group, said the abduction of Hindu and Christian girls for conversion and marriages was now a common thing in the southern Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces.
The report said minorities "continued to face harassment, arrest or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs in Pakistan in 2018."
The report also expressed concern over what it says was the misuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where around 70 people have been lynched since 1990 on charges of insulting Islam.
It said 40 people were currently on death row or serving a life sentence after being convicted on charges of blasphemy.
The report touched on last year's release of Aasia Bibi, a 54-year-old Christian woman who was freed by the Supreme Court after eight years on death row for blasphemy. For her safety, she has been living in an undisclosed location under tight security. She had initially hoped to join her daughters in Canada, where they have been granted asylum.
Bibi's case has brought international attention to Pakistan's blasphemy law, which carries a death sentence.
There have been widespread complaints that the law is used to settle scores and intimidate religious minorities, including Shiite Muslims.