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Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 12 December 2023

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, and we fund projects in Pakistan to address the underlying causes.

At the age of 14, Maira Shahbaz was abducted, forced into a marriage and raped. She escaped and has been sitting in one room with her entire family, terrified. She is now 18. I have lost track of the number of meetings I have had with successive Home Secretaries and the letters I have written. Nothing has happened to get this girl out, yet at the same time 100,000 fit young men are pouring across the channel in search of a better job. For God’s sake, can we not show some Christian compassion? What more can the Foreign Office do in Pakistan to try to stop these forced conversions and forced marriages?

We continue to press these individual cases with the Pakistani Government. The former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) raised human rights, including the persecution of minorities, with caretaker Prime Minister Kakar on 25 September. Lord Ahmad raised the need to protect minority communities with caretaker Foreign Minister Jilani on 13 September and again in a letter on 5 October. We continue to raise in Islamabad the issue of forced marriage and conversion with the Pakistani authorities.

This is not only about the case of Maira Shahbaz, but about the cases of many other young Christian girls, young Hindu girls and young Sikh girls in Pakistan being kidnapped from an early age. It is clear that there is an epidemic in Pakistan of the kidnapping and abuse of young girls. What is being done with Pakistan to change the attitude and the law of the land?

As well as making representations at a senior level, we fund programmes in Pakistan working to address child and forced marriage and gender-based violence, discrimination and intolerance, especially against minorities, in an effort to achieve cultural change that will attend to this matter. Of course, that is slow and painful work, but our team in Islamabad is fully focused on it.