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© Fides

Forced Conversions to Islam an Issue in Pakistan

Call for Ad Hoc Measure Urgently Needed to Protect Religious Minorities

“Civil society cannot ignore the responsibility of governors to guarantee all citizens equal access to civil freedom and justice. Today it is essential to introduce ad hoc legislation for the protection of religious minorities in Pakistan, especially to counter the phenomenon of forced conversions to Islam,” said the Catholic Peter Jacob, an activist for human rights and president of the Center of social justice (CSJ) in Pakistan, to Fides News Agency. He was commenting on the recent episodes of violence and abuse committed on young Christian women and other members of minority communities in the nation.

The family of Saima Sardar, a Christian nurse from Faisalabad, who refused to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim, Muhammad Idrees, who killed her, is still in shock. According to data collected by Fides sources in Pakistan, the phenomenon of forced conversions officially touches over a thousand girls, Hindus, and Christians every year, but these are only the cases reported, which come to light.

While the outrage of the population for the phenomenon of forced conversions is growing, the Parliament of the province of Sindh yesterday, July 16, unanimously adopted a resolution calling for “this practice to be stopped and for action to be taken against the people involved”.

In his conversation with Fides, Jacob notes: “The Commission for minorities in the province of Sindh is still inactive while the federal government and other provincial governments have not yet approved the law to set up special commissions for minority rights,” ignoring the provision of the Supreme Court of 19 June 2014. “The federal government should consider issuing anti-conversion laws to curb the sad phenomenon of kidnappings and forced conversions to Islam of Hindu and Christian girls,” he said, noting that, for the protection of religious minorities “the political will of decision-makers and institutions is lacking, due to indifference or incompetence.”

Lawyer Ali Palh, a well-known human rights activist, expresses to Agenzia Fides his concern about the uncontrolled increase in the incidence of forced conversions and says: “It is time for the government to introduce concrete legal guarantees to prevent marriages and conversions of forced, manipulated or imposed faith,” hoping for more careful intervention by the courts. Kalpana Devi, a Hindu activist, agrees and calls for “inter-ministerial coordination and to prevent violence, investigate and prosecute the phenomenon of forced conversions.”

Chaman Lal, Hindu activist and scholar of the phenomenon, told Fides: “Forced conversions of minority young women are often accompanied by crimes involving economic injustices, gender-based violence and crimes related to religious freedom. Some influential people promote or facilitate this phenomenon, manipulating the legal procedures with impunity. In addition, in court trials, the outcome of the hearings is in favor of the perpetrators of the violence rather than the victims.”

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