ISLAMABAD - Speakers on Saturday said halting legislation on outlawing forced conversions is a regression of democracy and human rights.
Speaking at a press conference held under the aegis of PCMR and CSJ, Justice (R) Nasira Iqbal, Khawar Mumtaz, Fatima Atif, Advocate Kalpana Devi, Michelle Chaudhry and Nabila Feroz Bhatti called upon the Prime Minister Imran Khan to take cognizance of this extreme form of gender-based violence and a violation of the norms of freedom of religion.
The Peoples Commission for Minorities Rights (PCMR) and Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has condemned the non-consideration of the “Prohibition of Forced Conversion Act 2021” by the head of the Parliamentary Committee for the Protection of Minorities from Forced Conversion.
The panellists challenged the position taken by the Council of Islamic Ideology, on the ground that it was beyond its legal and constitutional mandate, moreover in violation of the procedures specified in the law, for their input.
“I am dismayed to observe that religion is yet again being used to defend the abuses against minority women and children. In fact, it is a huge disservice to religion in the current context, to try to cover up heinous crimes perpetrated against minor girls of the minorities in Pakistan,” stated Nasira Iqbal.
Khawar Mumtaz, the former chairperson of National Commission on the Status of Women, and human rights activist stated that the doubts raised about the draft bill seem to be misplaced and deliberately planted to undermine the religious freedom of citizens. “The draft bill formerly approved by the Parliamentary Committee, now derailed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, was to address the forced conversions of minority women and children. Therefore, it should not be a cause of concern for the self-appointed custodians of majority faith.”
“The leadership of the parliamentary committee has failed to live up to its mandate because it was set up on the instruction of the Prime Minister about two years ago to address forced conversions. By saying that administrative steps will be sufficient they have admitted to being incompetent of doing what they were asked to do,” stated Fatima Atif, a veteran human rights defender.
Earlier, the Centre for Social Justice, an organisation affiliated with PCMR had issued its research report titled: Silence of the Lamb III which revealed that the phenomenon of forced conversion and marriages of minor girls from the Hindu and Christian community was not limited to Sindh and Punjab but present in other parts of the country. According to the report, the highest incidences of alleged forced conversions (51.85 per cent) was reported in Punjab, 43.83 per cent in Sindh, 1.23 per cent in Federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa each while one case was reported in Balochistan.
The forcible abductions, rapes and marriages and forced conversions of minority women and girls in Punjab and Sindh has been reported. In 2021, 36 cases have been reported till 15 October 2021 as compared to 13 in 2020. Hence, the reported cases of forced conversion have increased 177 per cent from 2020.
Nabila Feroz Bhatti, a child rights expert and columnist, observed that the government has missed out totally the gravity of the issue. “The concerned ministries of the federal government need to realise that forced conversions and consequent forced marriages are gross human rights violations under the national and international laws.
Therefore, the opposition to the protective legislation against forced conversion brings no gains to the country. ”
Kalpana Devi, a lawyer and activist from Sindh stated unfortunately the Parliamentary Committee failure to approve legislation on the bill itself makes the non-Muslim girls and women vulnerable and unsafe.