09/13/2021 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – News about the increased kidnapping and forced conversion of young female brides to Islam has caused international pressure on the Pakistani government. In response, Pakistan recently released a draft of the Prohibition of Forced Conversion Bill 2021, which some Christians and Hindus have praised. It has already received push back from many Muslim clerics.
The Prohibition of Forced Conversion Bill 2021 contains language prohibiting the forced conversion of any minor under 18 years old. In addition, the bill imputes a five-to-ten-year jail sentence and fines of between Rs 100,000 and Rs 200,000 to anyone who criminally coerces someone to convert to another religion. Muslim leaders say the bill is unconstitutional since the Constitution of Pakistan is based upon the Quran. The South Asia Monitor reports that Muslim critics also argue the bill is unenforceable and undermines parental authority.
According to Dawn, the draft bill requires adults wishing to convert to another religion to apply for a conversion certificate (including the person’s name, age, gender, current religion, CNIC number, and information about parents, siblings, children, and spouse) from their local Additional Sessions Judge, and be examined by the judge within seven days to ensure that the decision was not made in haste or under compulsion. The judge may also “award a time period of 90 days to the non-Muslim to undertake a comparative study of the religions and return to the Office of the Additional Sessions Judge.” The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA) notes these stipulations are meant to ensure mature decisions are made.
The Constitution of Pakistan already guarantees religious plurality; however, Christians and other minorities continue to experience persecution. With the state of religious freedom in Pakistan, Christians long for legislation protecting their rights. UCA notes that Christian minorities welcome the anti-conversion bill because they feel it will protect their underage daughters.
Yet, Christians are not the only ones concerned. UCA reports that in 2015, 1,200 Hindu families migrated to India because of lack of equality, religious discrimination, fear of coerced conversion, and kidnapping of their underage daughters. In 2020, Forbes reported nearly 1,000 forced conversions of minors to Islam annually in Pakistan. The same source mentioned the number could be much higher due to the financial conditions of many minority families. Pakistani Christian leaders say that the number of kidnappings is increasing daily and that something must be done.
Local attempts at passing anti-conversion laws have been met with violence in the past, causing government entities to drop their efforts. Many have lost faith in their government and criticize Prime Minister Imran Khan and the Minister for Religious Affairs, Pir Noorul Qadri. Minorities state that promises of equality are nothing but empty words.
The United States must continue to apply public pressure to Pakistan in a way that will encourage not only the passing of an anti-conversion bill but the enforcement of such a law.
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