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Pakistan

Pakistan's minorities demand anti-forced conversion law

Hindu and Christian girls 'are frequently abducted, forcibly converted, and married to Muslims with impunity'

UCA News reporter, Islamabad

UCA News reporter, Islamabad

Published: March 22, 2021 10:30 AM GMT

Updated: March 22, 2021 10:32 AM GMT

Pakistan's minorities demand anti-forced conversion law

Members of the Media gather as a judge arrives in a car for the gang-rape case hearing at the District Jail in Lahore on March 20. A Pakistani court on March 20 sentenced two men to death over the gang rape of a French-Pakistani mother, lawyers said, an attack that prompted nationwide protests and tough new anti-rape legislation. (Photo: Arif Ali/AFP)

Minority rights activists have called on Pakistan's parliament and provincial assemblies to take legal steps to end forced conversion and marriages involving girls from religious minorities.

The demand came at a March 21 seminar where speakers reported increasing cases of abduction, forced conversion and marriage of underage girls from Hindu and Christian communities.

The National Commission of Justice and Peace, the human rights arm of the Karachi Archdiocese, hosted the seminar.

Minority lawmakers, human rights activists, and women rights defenders joined the discussion on "fundamental rights of religious minorities in the constitution of Pakistan and forced conversion of religious minorities."

Seema Maheshwari, a rights activist, said at least four new cases of forced conversion have been recorded in the country within the last week.

"Sindh's Hindus and Christians in Punjab continue to face the problem of child marriages and forced religious conversion. Girls as young as 12, 13, and 14 year-olds are kidnapped and converted to Islam by their abductors," she said.

“In 2015, 1,200 Hindu families in Sindh migrated to India. The main reason was the denial of equal rights, discrimination and forced conversion of underage girls," she said.

She questioned why a law regarding forced conversion and marriage was still pending approval in both the national and provincial assemblies.

The legislative assembly in Sindh province, where most of Pakistan’s Hindus live, passed a bill in 2016 placing an age limit of 18 years on conversion and marriage. But religious parties opposed it saying age should not become a restriction for conversion.

Following threats of violence, the bill was dropped, however, a revised version was introduced in 2019 which again faces opposition. The bill is still pending.
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Maheshwari said a parliamentary committee formed to look into the issue concluded that forced conversion was not a problem.

Mangla Sharma, a Hindu lawmaker, said political parties were facing pressure from radical groups not to approve legislation banning forced conversion.

Nuzhat Shirin, chairwoman of the Sindh Commission for the Status of Women (SCSW), said an underage marriage law already exists in Sindh province.

"What we require is to make amendments to the existing laws to ensure minorities are not affected," Shirin said.

Sabir Michael, a Catholic academic and rights activist, said forced conversion is a sociological issue that needed to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

"International bodies including the EU are saying that Pakistan is making good efforts to improve the rights of minorities, but the truth is these so-called good efforts are only on paper. The situation is entirely different on the ground," he said.

"Every country has its own economic and business interests to protect. They are not bothered about our rights," Michael lamented.

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