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ICC Note:

The Sindh Provincial Assembly in Pakistan has adopted a bill to protect religious minorities. The bill with both set up a governing body to promote and protect religious minorities in the province and criminalized the practice of forced conversions. Christians and other religious minorities across Pakistan have complained they face intense persecution because of their religious identity. One of the issues particularly affecting religious minorities is the issue of forced conversions. Now that the Sindh assembly has outlawed this practice, will Christians and other religious minorities be safer?

12/01/2016 Pakistan (Daily Times) – The adoption of the first ever criminal law ‘Protection of Minorities Bill 2015’ by the Sindh Provincial Assembly is another step taken towards the founder father’s envisioned Pakistan. Sindh Assembly’s Member, Nand Kumar Goklani, proposed the said bill against forced conversions of minors living in the province.

The Hindu community makes up about 1.6 percent of the total population, which is in addition to a good number of other minorities living in the geographical regions governed by Sindh. Interestingly, when a large number of Muslims had migrated from India to Pakistan in 1947, Hindus and Christians living in the province did not make such a move. They remained loyal to their motherland.

Historically, minorities opted to continue leading their lives in the newly-born state, albeit right from the beginning, they started facing challenges from the right wing political and non-political entities. The excruciating hatred, prejudice, discrimination and persecution against ethnic minorities in the country has led them to relocate themselves in various parts of the country and the globe at large.

The social apartheid and discriminatory legislation have crumpled their lives. The slow drain of ethnic minorities from the country, which had started as early as the 1970s, was further triggered by the induction of 1985 Blasphemy laws in the constitution of Pakistan. These laws remain a hanging sword over the minorities’ neck to date.

A good percentage of minorities participated in the country’s affairs at the time of independence. However, their share has now decreased to a paltry presence of three percent. Reports, articles, and analyses often highlight the plight of ethnic minorities.

According to The Movement and Solidarity for Peace, a social organization in Pakistan, around 1,000 minors are forced to convert their religion to Islam every year. Another international organization, World Watch Monitor, has reported that forced conversions and abductions of minority women and girls have significantly increased over the years.

The Sindh Assembly’s minority’s protection bill is a sigh of relief for many marginalized and downtrodden sections of the society. The bill postulates, “At the stage of conclusion of the Private Bill 9 of 2015, The Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities)Bill 2015, The Standing Committee on Minorities Affairs, Provincial Assembly of Sindh after an extensive and at length deliberations, taken clause by clause and after accommodation of certain amendments by the Members of the Standing Committee in different clauses of the Bill and keeping in view the valuable advises by the Administrative Secretary of the Department and special invitees, unanimously approved the Private Bill No.9 of 2015, the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities)Bill 2015 for passage of the august house of Provincial Assembly of Sindh.”

Further to this, the bill also reads, “Forced conversion is an abhorrent and violent offence and an issue that has become prevalent across Sindh (that) must be eliminated by recognizing the importance of tolerance, peace, and respect for all religions and persons irrespective of their religion. It is necessary to criminalize forced conversions and provide protection for those who are victims of this abhorrent practice.”

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