Pakistan: CLAAS welcomes law against religious conversion

On November 24 Pakistan’s provincial Assembly Sindh passed a law criminalising forced conversion. The bill recommends a five year punishment for perpetrators, whereas facilitators of forceful religious conversions will be handed a three year sentence.

The Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, 2015, was proposed by the PML-F’s (Pakistan Muslim League- functional) Mr Nand Kumar Goklani a Hindu minority MP. Minorities, Christians and Hindus have long been complaining of forceful conversion.

According to reports by some reputable NGOs like Human Rights Commission, Aurat Foundation and Movement for Solidarity and Peace, at least 1,000 girls – 700 Christians and 300 Hindus and other religions are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year.

For forcible conversion different tactics are used to apply pressure, force, duress or threats, whether physical, emotional or psychological, to make another person adopt another religion.

The new law prevents the forced conversion of minors, and even puts newly-converted adults under observation for a period of 21 days “to ensure they are converting for religious purposes and by their own free will, not out of fashion or under force.”

The court will decide after that, and if there are any irregularities, the person doing it will get five years in jail, and their facilitator will get a three-year sentence.

The Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs earlier in June termed forced conversions “illegal” and against the principles of Islam.

Nasir Saeed director of CLAAS-UK welcomed the new law and said it had been a long-standing demand of religious minorities of Pakistan, especially the Christians and Hindus whose girls are the main targets.

He added: “Unequivocally, it is a great step taken by the Sindh government to protect the religious minorities. Though it will not stop the ongoing trend in society, it will help to reduce such crimes and it will also build confidence and a sense of security among the religious minorities.

“The police do not normally take action in such cases, fearing the reaction and pressure from the Muslim community, but now they will have to take action.”

Mr Saeed criticised the Punjab government for not taking this matter seriously. He said it should follow the example of Sindh and stop the ongoing forced conversion without any delay. Punjab is the home to most of the Christian population.

Mr Saeed further said it is the responsibility of Christian MPs to raise this matter in the Punjab assembly and force the Punjab government to pass this law as soon as possible.

“In June the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs declared the forced conversion to Islam as un-Islamic and also expressed concern over the practice. The standing committee has also urged the government to adopt a comprehensive mechanism for the protection of women minority communities and even directed the federal and provincial governments to draft legislation which would curb the practice.”

Mr Saeed expressed his sadness, stating: “I wish the National Assembly had passed this law and people living everywhere in Pakistan could benefit from it as there is overwhelming evidence of forced conversions and a long standing demand from the religious minorities.