A Hindu lawmaker and civil society members in Pakistan have criticised two religious political parties for opposing the Minorities Bill, which criminalises forced conversions in the Muslim-majority country.
Last week, Pakistan’s southern Sindh province passed a law making “forced conversions” punishable with a life sentence and forbidding minors from changing their religion, in a bid to protect minorities.
Dr Ramesh Kumar, members of the National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) party, commended on Tuesday the Pakistan Peoples Party government in Sindh for setting the minimum age for religious conversion to 18, Dawn reported.
“People are issued a CNIC (identity card) and driving licence at 18 and are allowed to vote after 18. In Sindh, the age at which someone can be legally married is also 18 because before that, an individual is considered a child. After this law, conversions before the age of 18 will be considered a crime,” Kumar said.
He said that girls belonging to minority religions are kidnapped in Sindh and forcibly married, mostly to seminary students, and that they have no choice but to adapt to their new lives.
Ramesh met Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief senator Sirajul Haq outside the parliament building and asked him not to protest unnecessarily against the bill for minority rights.
Members of the civil society said incidences of forced conversions were reportedly increasing across the country, particularly in Sindh, and that the bill in question will go a long way in helping the minorities in Pakistan.
“Conversion is a basic right as marriage is, but just like forced marriage, forced conversions are also a violation of human rights and is against the teachings of Islam as well,” said Krishan Sharma, chairman of the REAT Network Pakistan.
“There are two kinds of conversions even now, when Hindus convert after they are preached to by Christian or Muslim missionaries or when they are forcibly converted,” he said.
All the provinces should adopt similar laws to protect minorities from forced conversions and forced marriages, Sharma said.
The two larger religious political parties, the JI and the Jamiat Ulema Islam-F, are opposing the new law recently-enacted in Sindh, claiming the law is part of a conspiracy to make Pakistan a liberal and secular country.
Talking to the media, JI chief senator Haq said the law related to religious conversions that was approved by the Sindh Assembly was a violation of the Constitution and was also against the UN Charter.