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Law sought to bar forced conversions

Minority women live under constant threat of abduction and conversion

  • ucanews.com reporter, Lahore
  • Pakistan
  • May 29, 2012
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Christian lawyers and activists have criticized the Supreme Court for its failure to protect religious minority women from forced conversion and urged the government to adopt specific legal protections.

Peter Jacob, executive director of the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace, said during a consultative meeting with Christian lawyers on Saturday that minority women live under constant threat of abduction and conversion.

“The religious minorities are under threat and hesitant to allow their women to join any profession due to fear of losing a family member,” he said.

He added that the Supreme Court had failed to protect minorities by refusing a petition by the Pakistan Hindu Council calling for a law against forced conversion of minority women.

The meeting in Lahore included Christian lawyers, members of the Salvation Army and human rights activists.

Jacob further noted the court’s failure to act on the abduction and conversion of three Hindu women, who subsequently decided not to return to their families.

The court ruled last month that the three women allegedly kidnapped and married to Muslim men were old enough to decide for themselves whether to stay with their husbands.

“We want to build a bridge between the Christian lawyers and the Church-based organizations to stand and struggle together for the rights and protection of the Christian community,” Jacob said.

According to data compiled by the Episcopal Commission, 1,415 people were forcibly converted to Islam since 2000, including 554 Christians, 220 Ahmadi Muslims, 622 Hindus and 4 Sikhs. An additional 15 people whose religious affiliation was not known were also forcibly converted.

Haroon Suleman Khokhar, a lawyer who attended the consultative meeting, said the country’s blasphemy law is a frequently used tool for forced conversion.

“There is a list of such cases where the victim was pressured to convert to Islam if he or she wants to be released from the allegation [of blasphemy],” he said.

Recommendations by the meeting included the establishment of a three-member committee comprising two Christians and one Muslim to evaluate each case of conversion to determine if it was voluntary.

Participants also supported the adoption of a three- to six-month waiting period for anyone who converts in order to be married.

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