Karachi: The Sindh Assembly has passed landmark legislation against forced conversions amidst strong opposition by religious parties, banned outfits and extremist elements in the Pakistan. The law states that those found guilty of forceful religious conversion will be incarcerated for a minimum of five years and even life imprisonment, along with a fine that is to be paid to the victim, which has no limit, while those acting as a catalyst will be handed a three-year sentence and a fine.

The long-awaited ‘Sindh Criminal Protection Act, 2015’ was finally signed into law through unanimous approval by the southern provincial legislature of Pakistan on November 24, 2016.

This law forbids minors from choosing another religion of their free will until they reach the age of eighteen.

The move was a response to the pressing demands by religious minorities and human rights activists. It has been lauded by human rights organisations, liberal forces and the political elite.

Opposition religious parties, proscribed outfits and extremist elements protested against the law and demanded its withdrawal.

Anjali Kumari Meghwar was allegedly abducted and forced to convert to Islam. She was later married to a Muslim man in 2014 from Daharki, a small town in Sindh. As she was a minor, the court had to a sent to a shelter. Her father Kundan Kumar Menghwar praised the law, saying, “This law against forced conversion will at least protect our children. The new law is a ray of hope for minorities. Hopefully, others will not experience what I went through.”

The new law defined forced conversion as the use of any form of pressure, force, duress or threat, whether physical, emotional or psychological to make another person adopt another religion.

Specific courts and commissions would be established in the province. The courts have to dispose cases within 90 days and the commission will oversee and ensure the implementation of this Act.

Under the newly passed law, adults will be given 21 days to consider their decision to convert and it forbids minors from choosing another religion. The political elite and Human rights activists of the country welcome the new law.

Chairman of the ruling Pakistan Peoples’ Party in Sindh, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari tweeted,” Felicitations to the lawmaker over the unanimously passed bill into a law against forced conversion.”

He pledged that the PPP will introduce the same legislation in the other three provinces when it comes into power.

Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs has already declared that forced conversion is against Islamic principles during its sitting in June 2016 in Islamabad.

Senator Eng. Gian Chand of Pakistan Peoples’ Party said, “We are moving forward but I don’t think that forced conversion will be easily eliminated despite the new law. At least now there is a law to punish inhumane evils such as forced conversions. Without a doubt, the Sindh Assembly has taken a remarkable decision.”

Religious Parties, extremists and banned outfits oppose the new law and demand its withdrawal.

Proscribed outfits and religious parties including Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWL), and Jamat Islami, Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUI-F) held protest rallies across the country on November 26, 2016, and demanded that the new law be repealed.

“The protests caused fear and distrust among religious minorities,” the spokesperson of Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) Hote Chand told News Lens Pakistan. He said, “These banned outfits have a history of various rights violations against minorities, so fear is natural within our community.”

There are no confirmed statistics regarding forced conversions in the country, “PHC estimates that at least 300 girls or women were forced to convert to Islam during the first half of current year,” he said.

The bill against the forced conversion was also tabled in the Sindh Assembly a year ago by Nand Kumar Goklani, a member of Sindh Assembly on the reserved seat for minorities. After opposition and protests, Kumar limited his activities to his house. He refused to comment on the protests held against the law when approached on the phone by News Lens Pakistan.

Asma Jehangir, a renowned rights activist, slammed those opposed the law and said, “These extremists have a long history of such practices. They have to oppose every positive move that is in the public’s interest.  Jehangir further commented,” These religious parties have damaged the image of Pakistan internationally.”

The Parliament is authorised to adopt any law to avoid violations of basic human rights. “Those who have reservations regarding the new law should get themselves elected to the parliament first, and then try to change the law,” Dr Sikander Ali Mendhro, a member of Sindh Assembly, said. He said that the law will not be repealed at any cost. “We must ensure that no one is forced to change their religion, and this law will help to stop this practice,” added Mendhro.

Senator Eng. Gian Chand replied cautiously regarding the protests held by those who oppose the bill and said that everybody has the right to express their opinion.

Mufti Naeem-Ur-Rehman, a well-known cleric, and Nasir Mehmood Soomro, Secretary General of JUI-F Sindh chapter both said that prohibition for minors to convert is wrong. According to them, the law is against the ‘Quran and Sunna’ and demanded that it be repealed immediately. “Several companions of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), including Hazrat Ali (RA), had accepted Islam when they were in their teenage,” they added.


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