Global Human Rights Defence

Underaged Minority Girls in Pakistan Still Allegedly Forced Into Marriage and Religious Conversion
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

Célinne Bodinger
Media & Technical Coordinator
Global Human Rights Defence

Underaged minority girls from rural and low-income households in Pakistan are still allegedly abducted, raped, forced into religious conversion and marriage, and kept from their families.

Unconfirmed reports estimate that around 1000 young girls, often with low educational levels, disappear from their family homes each year to forcibly be converted to Islam through marriage, often within the span of just one day. This pattern of conversation has caused suspicion of coercion and falsified birth, marriage, and conversion certificates. When investigated, two conflicting stories unfold:

One where the family of the young girls show clear devastation and speak of – sometimes – violent abductions of their young family members, claiming they’re under the legal age for marriage.  

And then the other side where the girls are said to be older, conflicting with the families statements. In this story, the girls also state on video how they willingly chose to convert and be with their husbands.

The families, in turn, claim the girls are being coached on what to say. The girls rarely make statements on their own or along with their family, but instead next to their husbands or religious clerics. 

Whether it’s forced or voluntary, why this is happening is a complex issue and is said to have to do with matters including tradition, culture, and religion; lack of education and literacy; perceived benefits of child marriage; the application of Islamic law; and poverty. 

Poverty is frequently highlighted as victims and converties often come from much lower economic backgrounds. Furthermore, the ones who wish to fight the attempts on their female family members rarely have enough resources to do so. 

Religious minorities in Pakistan are often seen as second-class citizens, enduring poverty as well as systemic discrimination inlcuding: housing; work; and access to government welfare. 

Minorities in poverty also inherit debt from their ancestors and are more likely to work as laborers and artisans. Once they have converted to Islam, they are free of debt and able to join the Muslim majority free from discrimination.

What appears to be the case is that converties are either looking for a life with more opportunity or they’re vulnerable members of society being taken advantage of. 

It is difficult to discern what is really happening when word goes against the word, the proof is scant, and the legal system benefits the majority. What is clear, however, is conflict, discrimination, and devastation. It’s important that Pakistan properly regulates the process of conversion to avoid suspicions of coercion. 

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the United Nations Populations Fund Pakistan are two organizations fighting for the rights for all people in Pakistan. The HRCP says that “a large number of children fall prey to abuse and exploitation due to serious gaps in the country’s child protection system.” And the UNFPA says that “Understanding the complex factors that perpetuate child marriage is key to ending it.”

Here is what they propose should happen: 


  • Implementation of measures aimed at combating forced conversions including better birth records in rural areas
  • Raising the legal age for conversion to 18
  • Taking the conversion process out of the hands of religious leaders and putting the authorization in the hands of the provincial government


  • Advocating politically for policies that raise the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 years old for both girls and boys, without exceptions.
  • Using evidence to tailor interventions in areas where child marriage is rife.
  • Implementing support programmes that empower girls at risk or who are currently in child marriages.
  • Improve girls’ access to supported education choices.
  • Enhance economic opportunities for girls and their families through employment options and supports
  • Educate and sensitize communities on the harmful impact child marriage has on girls

Religious clerics have shown opposition toward setting an age limit on conversions, voicing disapproval of ‘such laws’ in an Islamic country. Furthermore, they have denied any wrongdoing and religious leader, Mian Mitha, argued in an interview with Radio Mashaal that “If the Prophet says not to convert people by force, then who am I to do it?” 

If forced conversion and child and forced marriages (CFM) are truly happening, then Pakistan is breaching several international human rights treaties they’ve signed and ratified; “ratified” meaning that the state “assumes a legal obligation to implement the rights recognized in that treaty.” The treaties/conventions they’ve signed are:

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 

  • Article 23 (3): “No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.”

The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

  • Article 16 (1b): “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women: The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

  • Article 14 (1): “States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

Where there is suffering, change always seems to take too long. I know how powerless you can feel after consuming this type of news. Luckily, there are organizations out there working hard to solve this issue. If you feel inclined to do something you can head over to to support their members through donations, supporting a campaign, or joining their partnership. 

If you want to learn more about what’s going on for minorities in Pakistan you can check out the Panel on Minority Groups in Pakistan hosted by the GHRTV.

Follow the GHRTV for more updates regarding this and other human rights issues.



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Marguerite Remy
Coordinator Middle East and a Legal Researcher.

Marguerite is the coordinator of the team of legal researchers focusing on the Middle East and a legal researcher herself.

She developed her expertise in international human rights law, international criminal law and humanitarian law during her double bachelor in law and political science at Sorbonne-Paris 1 University and her LLM in public international law at Leiden University. Particularly interested in the Middle East for years, Marguerite has acquired a good knowledge of the region and its human rights issues through various field experience, including internships in a cultural service of the French embassy and in a local NGO, as well as a semester in a university in the region. Currently, her main interests are accountability mechanisms for crimes committed during recent armed conflicts, notably in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the Palestinian case at the ICC, and transitional justice issues.

Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Mattia Ruben Castiello
Media quality coordinator

Mattia is currently in charge of quality checking and improving all the social media and website handles of the Global Human Rights Defence.
With a bachelor in Psychology from Spain and a master in Cultural Anthropology from the Netherlands, Mattia’s passion now lies in Human Rights in regard to the refugee and migrant crisis. Having lived his whole life in East-Arica, Mattia has had the opportunity to work with a vast amount of non-government organisations and health institutions. This has provided him with knowledge in diverse cultural understandings as well as interest in concerning global issues.

Jeremy Samuël van den Enden
Coordinator Bangladesh & Communication Officer
Mr. Van den Enden has a MSc in International Relations and specializes in inequality, racial dynamics and security within international diplomacy and policymaking. He studies the contemporary as well as modern historical intricacies of human rights in the global political arena. Furthermore, Mr. Van den Enden assists GHRD in revitalizing its internal and external communication.
Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Prerna Tara
Human Rights Coordinator

Prerna Tara graduated from Leiden Law School with an LLM in Public International Law. She practiced in the India before starting her Masters. She has assisted in pro- bono cases and interned at some of the best legal firms in India which has brought her face to face with the legal complexities in areas of corporate law, white collar crimes etc. Her work at GHRD deals with human rights research spanning throughout the globe.

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Bianca Fyvie
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Bianca has widespread knowledge about social problems and human rights issues, with a specific focus on social justice in Africa and the empowerment of communities and individuals. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Stellenbosch University as well as a Master’s degree in Social Work and Human Rights from Gothenburg University. She has participated in courses on Women’s Leadership at Stellenbosch University, and has worked with organizations such as AIESEC towards furthering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She also has experience in working directly with marginalized and vulnerable groups in South Africa while qualifying as a Social Worker.
Bianca is the coordinator for a group of interns doing research and reporting on Human Rights topics in a range of African countries. Her focus is on ensuring that these countries are monitored and have up to date reports and research conducted in order to allow relevant and updated information to be produced.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Hiba Zene
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Hiba Zene holds a Bachelor’s degree in International and European Law from The Hague University and, has significant legal knowledge in the field of international human rights law. She actively advocates for the protection of all human rights of vulnerable minorities and marginalised groups. Focusing, specifically on the human rights of children and women in Africa.
Hiba is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. As a human rights defender for GHRD she has examined and investigated various human rights abuses, violations and issues in Africa. She has led research missions addressing issues on Statelessness in Kenya, Child Abuse in Uganda, and Teen Pregnancy in Kenya.

Thaís Ferreira de Souza
Coordinator and Head Researcher (International Justice and Human Rights)

Senior Paralegal at PGMBM (Amsterdam office), working to bring justice for victims of wrongdoing by big corporations, with a focus on human rights and environmental law.
Previously, Thaís worked as a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, providing legal advice on international human rights law and international criminal law. She also worked at the State Court of Justice of the Rondônia State (TJRO) in Brazil from 2013 to 2017, initially as a legal clerk and posteriorly as a legal advisor to judges. In 2016 she served as the regional representative of the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Procedural Law (IBRASPP) in the State of Rondônia, Brazil and during her bachelor’s degree, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Research Group ‘Ethics and Human Rights’ of the Federal University of Rondônia for over three years.

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Fabian Escobar
Coordinator and Head Researcher

My name is Fabian Escobar, L.L.B. International and European Law candidate to The Hague University. I was born in Honduras and been living in The Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam the last 8 years. I am passionate about Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, fighting racism, and empowering women and ethnic minorities. In GHRD I am the coordinator for the Europe Team, I am thankful for being part of this team and that I have been given the opportunity to learn and apply my learning.