Sindh on Thursday became the first Pakistani province to pass a law to prevent forced religious conversions, a move that will benefit Hindus and other religious minorities.
The provincial assembly unanimously passed the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) bill that had been tabled by Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) legislator Nand Kumar Goklani a year ago.
The bill recommends a five-year prison term for perpetrators and facilitators of forced religious conversions, the Pakistani media reported. Forcibly converting a minor too is a punishable offense under the bill.
The bill had earlier been referred to the standing committee for minority and human rights for feedback. It was passed after the panel sent it back to the assembly.
“Forced conversion is an abhorrent and violent offence and an issue that has become prevalent across Sindh (that) must be eliminated by recognising the importance of tolerance, peace and respect for all religions and persons, irrespective of their religion,” the bill stated.
The bill focusses on recognising the right to freedom of religion for all people, the right to freedom of choice for marriage. According to it, no person can change his or her religion before attaining the age of maturity or 18 years. Adults will be given 21 days to consider their decision to convert.
Defining punishments for forced conversions, the bill stated that any person who forcibly converts another person can be sent to prison for five years to life. They will also have to pay a fine to the victims.
Anyone who performs or facilitates a marriage with the knowledge that either one or both parties are victims of forced conversion can be punished with a three-year prison term or a fine.
The bill stated that victims or any person authorised by a victim or an informer can submit a petition regarding forced conversions to a local court. “The court shall fix the first date of hearing, which shall not exceed seven days from the date of the receipt of the petition by the court,” the bill said, adding any case of forced conversion should be disposed of by the court in 90 days.
Sindh is home to a majority of Pakistan’s Hindus. Hindu leaders have repeatedly complained about the forced conversion and marriages of young women and girls of the community.
Nand Kumar Goklani, the legislator who tabled the bill, said, “Every other day, reports pouring in suggest that minor girls belonging to non-Muslim communities are forced to change their religions…This bill aims to end this inhumane practice.”