Sindh Assembly passes bill against forced religious conversions

Published: November 24, 2016

KARACHI: Sindh Assembly unanimously passed on Thursday a law against forced conversion of religion in the province.

A private bill, Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities), was tabled by Pakistan Muslim League – Functional (PML-F) lawmaker Nand Kumar a year ago. It was referred to the standing committee for minority and human rights for feedback and has now been returned to the assembly. Sindh is the first assembly in Pakistan to pass the law.

“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 read.

The law will focus on recognising the right to freedom of religion of all persons, the right to freedom to marry and freedom of choice of marriage of all persons.

Age of conversion

According to the bill, no person shall be deemed to have changed their religion until they attain the age of maturity, which is 18 years. Similarly, the decision of a minor to convert to another religion will not be recognised until they reach the age of maturity.

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Defining the punishments for forced conversion, the bill states that any person who forcibly converts another person shall be liable to imprisonment ranging from five years to life and a fine will have to be paid to the victim.

Whoever performs or facilitates a marriage while having knowledge that either one or both the parties are victims of forced conversion shall be liable to imprisonment for a minimum of three years or a fine to be paid to the victim or victims.

“This shall also include any persons who have provided logistical support or any other essential services for the marriage ceremony,” states the law.

It adds that in a case of forced conversion, the accused shall also be liable for other offences, including kidnapping, abduction or compelling a woman for marriage.

Complaint mechanism

Regarding the mechanism of complaints, the law states that the victim, any person authorised by the victim or an informer may present a petition regarding the forced conversion in 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,” said the law, adding that any case of forced conversion shall be disposed of in court within 90 days.

Shelter for victims

“The victim shall be given temporary [residence] in a shelter home of a service provider during the pendency of the trial,” states the bill. It further adds that the court may exercise its discretion in the interest of security to withhold information of the location of shelter home.

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“Any person who discloses the location of the victim in contravention of the orders of the court shall be liable to penalties as contempt of court as under the Contempt of Court Act, 1976,” the law said. It added that the court will allow victims 21 days to make an independent decision regarding conversion to a new religion before initiating a case of forced conversion under this act.

Meanwhile, Nand Kumar said, “Every other day, reports pouring in suggest that minor girls belonging to non-Muslim communities are forced to change their religions,” and added, “This bill aims to end this inhumane practice.”

He added that the bill is supported by the Constitution, which provides and protects the rights of all persons to choose and practice their own religion and the freedom of choice of marriage.

On November 17, Sindh Assembly passed a bill to form a commission to protect the rights of minorities. The government is to form the commission after legislation in this regard which will comprise 14 members including the head and will work for the rights of minorities.

The commission can take suo moto action on the issues of minorities and guide government on the legislation pertaining to non-Muslims.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Bunny Rabbit
    Nov 24, 2016 - 3:45PM

    I dont know about other religions but a Hindu cant be converted. we get into this by birth and can move away by death. Recommend

  • BrainBro
    Nov 24, 2016 - 4:43PM

    @Bunny Rabbit
    That is not true. Around 20% of the South Asian population is Muslim, who converted when the Arabs invaded this region. I do agree that Hinduism is the only indigenous religion of this entire region. The rest came from outside. Recommend

  • searcher
    Nov 24, 2016 - 6:00PM

    18 years is not the age of maturity in Islam. Pakistan is a Islamic country , how can you pass these kind of bills which against the teachings of Islam.
    What a bill..! And look who is passing ..! The great honest parlimentralians. .. Recommend

  • Ashah
    Nov 24, 2016 - 10:52PM

    About time ! At least Sindh is trying to achieve a modern age in line with other countries and modern societies, forced conversions is against Freedom, it’s immoral, probably against the UN charter on human rights Recommend

  • ew
    Nov 25, 2016 - 2:00AM

    Barbaric and prehistoric practices in PakistanRecommend

  • flipflop
    Nov 25, 2016 - 6:56AM

    @searcher: By age 18 what they mean is that you are mature enough to weigh between good and bad. At the age of 18 you can vote, get married and stuff therefore it is based on that. Islam gives you room to make necessary adjustments to many things if they are unanimously agreed upon. Recommend

  • Ramesha
    Nov 25, 2016 - 9:04AM

    There should be a bill passed prohibition of Religion Conversion. A person is get birth in any religion by will of Supreme Power not us. So why this conversion? If Supreme Power want to make any person in particular religion then who are us to convert them in another religion?

    Just follow the rule of humanity, do best to others, believe in your religion. Meditate your self. etc..Recommend

  • Saad
    Nov 25, 2016 - 11:20PM

    This is shocking and sad. Just saw an article from a renowned muslim scholar on the oddness of this bill. I totally agree with him that forced conversion and converting at 18 has been mixed. Forced conversion is totally unislamic but what if a person of 17 years wants to be a muslim completely at his own will? Banning forced conversion is understandable but why put 18 years a limit on accepting a religion change? Law passing is a great responsibility and alot of thought process and consultation should be involved with all experts. Recommend

  • Nasir Zuberi
    Jan 12, 2017 - 5:23PM

    There is no forced conversion in Islam. If was the case, no Hindu may have existed in India.
    The ill-bill is only aimed at getting sympathies of minorities for Votes by Peoples Party.
    A those who are commenting from India shall not forget the Govt supported move Ghar Wapsi program through which people are bribed and threatened to convert to Hinduism. Recommend

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