09/23/2021, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Forced conversion is still not a crime

by Shafique Khokhar

Pakistan’s religious establishment rejects a bill designed to stop kidnappings for the purpose of marriage. For minority leaders, this legitimises coercion and legalises abuses.

 

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – In Pakistan, the country’s minorities continue to be alarmed by the growing number of kidnappings of underage non-Muslim girls and young women forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.

Making matters worse, Muslim religious authorities recently came out against a bill that would have put a stop to such abuses and banned forced conversion. As a result, the bill has been dropped.

Minority leaders have slammed this decision, done without any discussion with the interested parties.

Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, special adviser on religious harmony to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, recently called the bill “anti-Quran”.

“I want to make it clear that no bill can be passed against the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah because the Constitution of Pakistan is under the Quran,” he said.

Under the Pakistani constitution of 1973, equal status and equal opportunities are guaranteed to all of the country’s citizens. However, very little is in place to uphold those principles.

Instead, crimes like forced religious conversion are widespread, facilitated by systemic discrimination, and a tolerant attitude towards such abuses by political and religious groups within the Muslim majority.

According to the Minority Caucus (MC), a minority support group, “The government must set the legal age at 18 years for marriage and make the national identity card mandatory to solemnise marriage(s)”.

This is a first step to discourage those who, legitimised by an unfair law, can commit acts of violence and abuse against girls and teenage women.

At a press conference on Tuesday at the National Press Club in Islamabad, members of pro-minority political parties spoke out against the bill’s rejection.

“The right not to be forced to change religion is an absolute human right guaranteed in international human rights instruments to which Pakistan is a party,” said MC joint secretary Yasir Talib.

“Muslim clerics and religious scholars should avoid viewing any legislation to protect minorities’ rights as if it is against the majority religion,” he explained.

What is more, they “should abstain from looking at the reprehensible practice of forced conversions through a majoritarian lens, and eschew imposing their own religious ideology on religious minorities,” he added.

For MC president, Lala Robin Daniel, “The government should take appropriate measures to ensure that complaints are impartially and promptly investigated, perpetrators are apprehended and brought to justice, and victims have access to an effective remedy, exercising their right to a fair trial.”

For his part, MC convenor Manzoor Anthony wants Muslim scholars to “support such a bill against using coercion in religion, as rejection to the proposed bill will be tantamount to facilitating the actors involved in forcible faith conversion”.

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