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Pakistan: Maira Shahbaz

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 26 October 2021

6. What discussions her Department has had with officials in the Government of Pakistan on the case of Maira Shahbaz. (903834)

We strongly condemn forced marriage and the forced conversion of women and girls, including in Pakistan. We regularly raise our concerns, including individual cases, at a senior level with the Pakistani authorities. We fund projects in Pakistan to address child and forced marriages, gender-based violence, and discrimination and intolerance, especially against minorities.

At the age of 14, Maira Shahbaz was abducted, forced into a marriage against her will, and raped. She managed to escape, and she is living in fear for her life in one room with her entire family. We have now been campaigning for over a year, 12,000 people have signed a petition, and we saw the Home Secretary. Can the Foreign Office not do more? Is it for fear of alienating the Pakistan Government, to whom we give £300 million a year? Can we have action this day to move the court case on, get her out, and get her to safety in the United Kingdom?

My right hon. Friend will understand that it is difficult and sometimes counterproductive to discuss individual cases in detail, as to do so could put individuals and their families at risk. The House, and indeed hon. Members, will have heard his points, and I assure him that requests for asylum will be considered on their merits.

Child marriage is an abhorrent practice wherever it is found, and I urge the House to support the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) in her Bill to ban it in this country. I welcome the Foreign Secretary to her place, and particularly the fact that she has kept the women and girls brief. Will she explain why, in her first week in the job, she signed off £183 million in cuts to education for women and girls, when such funding is one of the key drivers to prevent child marriage?

I assure the Chair of the International Development Committee, and the whole House, that my right hon. Friend, the Department, and the wider Government take the rights of women around the world incredibly seriously. Education for girls remains a priority for the Prime Minister, and we will continue to advocate for that internationally, and fight for that as a priority within Government.