ucanews.com reporter, KarachiUpdated: February 08, 2017 08:01 AM GMT
Pakistani Christians hold candles during a rally in Lahore on March 29, 2016, as a tribute for the victims of a suicide bomb blast committed by the Taliban that killed more than 70 people. Pakistan's parliament passed a bill Feb. 6 aimed at addressing acts of extremism that have 'infiltrated society,' gravely affecting minority groups such as Christians. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)
Pakistan's parliament passed a bill on Feb. 6 aimed at curbing hate speech, sectarianism and the forced marriage of non-Muslim girls.
The bill's statement of objects and reasons said that "terrorism, sectarianism and extremism have gripped the entire country and these acts have become the order of the day. The country is passing through an extraordinary situation, which requires stringent measures to be taken to curb this menace that has infiltrated society."
Through the new law — the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act 2016 — the punishment for the offense of "deliberately using words to hurt the religious feelings of any person" has been enhanced from yearlong imprisonment and an unspecified fine to three years' imprisonment and/or a fine of 500,000 rupees (US$4900).
The amendment creates punishments for inciting religious, sectarian or ethnic hatred by using loudspeakers, sound amplifiers or any other device.
The act calls on police to prevent sectarian and hate speeches and the proliferation of hate material by any person, organisation or banned outfit as part of their basic duties.
The new law also suggests enhanced punishments for "officers guilty of any violation of duty, wilful breach or neglect of any rule, regulation or lawful order made by a competent authority" increasing them from docking three month's salary or imprisonment not exceeding three months to imprisonment of up to three years with a 100,000 rupees fine.
The new law also increases the punishment for the forced marriages of women belonging to minority groups. It more than doubled the penalty to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 1 million.
Around 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are forced to convert and marry Muslim men in Pakistan every year, according to a 2014 report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan.
Up to 700 of these women are Christian and 300 are Hindu. After marriage they are subject to sexual abuse, prostitution, human trafficking and other kinds of abuse, it said.
A similar report by Aurat Foundation, a leading women's rights group, said that forced marriage is used not just on the victim herself but can also be used as a threat against a family or community.
The bill is now awaiting the formal assent of the president to become a law. It amends the Pakistan Penal Code 1860; the Police Act 1861; the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898; the Qanoon-i-Shahadat 1984 and the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.
Pakistan has 185 million people of which about 95 percent are Muslim while Christians account for about 2 percent. Hindus are similar in number and other religious minorities make up the final 1 percent.