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Pakistan

Pakistan court rules mental capacity crucial in child conversion

Human rights activists decry Lahore High Court's ruling on children's conversion to Islam

Pakistan court rules mental capacity crucial in child conversion

The Centre for Social Justice holds a Sept. 28 press conference urging the Religious Affairs Ministry to reconsider its stance on the anti-forced conversion bill. (Photo supplied)

Human rights activists in Pakistan have slammed the recent judgment of Lahore High Court that mental capacity outweighs age in child religious conversion cases.

Justice Tariq Nadeem last week rejected a petition filed by Gulzar Masih, a Catholic rickshaw driver from Faisalabad, seeking the recovery of his 14-year-old daughter Chashman from her alleged abductor Muhammad Usman.

The judge said neither the Holy Quran nor any specific hadith of Prophet Muhammad expressly stipulates a minimum age for conversion to Islam. Prophet Ali was only 10 when he accepted Islam, he said, adding that Muslim jurists regard the mental capacity of a child as of crucial importance when considering the question of his/her conversion. The judge remarked that the age of discernment is generally reckoned as the age when one attains puberty. 

Chashman, a sixth grader, was kidnapped on July 27 after Masih dropped her at school. Two days later, officials at the police station in Samanabad, Faisalabad, sent him photos, video and documents claiming that she had embraced Islam and willingly married Usman.

“The police station has accepted a bribe. They kept lying to us. My wife had been suffering from psychosis for more than a year. The tragedy has worsened her condition. She keeps fighting and trying to burn the household. We have to keep a relative to guard her,” Masih told UCA News.

Christian social media users have rejected the ruling. “What kind of sickening stone age society we are living in where might is right and the weaker are crushed in the name of religion,” said Robinson Sajid Mattoo in a Facebook post.

The issue of abduction, forced conversion to Islam, rape and forced marriage remains an imminent threat to religious minority women and children

The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) UK, a Christian charity dedicated to helping persecuted Christians in Pakistan, also expressed grief over the judgment.

“It is very unfortunate that secular courts are making their decision under the Islamic law while Sharia law is not fully implemented in the country,” said Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS UK in a Sept. 28 press release.

“The issue of abduction, forced conversion to Islam, rape and forced marriage remains an imminent threat to religious minority women and children, especially to Christian and Hindu women and girls. It is an open violation of the human rights treaties ratified by Pakistan. Pakistan is under pressure from Islamic groups but the world is very concerned and taking this matter very seriously.

“Separating underage children from their parents in the name of Islam cannot be accepted at any cost. The legal age of maturity is 16 in Punjab and 18 in Sindh province. The court and other law enforcement agencies should respect and implement it.”

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A day before the Lahore court judgment, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony rejected a bill that proposed regulations on conversions to Islam.

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