Forced marriages and conversions are a rising cause for concern in Sindh, claim civil activists and religious leaders.
In a consultation meeting on the ‘Draft of Forced Marriage and Conversion’, organised by the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) at Regent Plaza on Friday, speakers stressed that a law on these issues must be tabled immediately in the provincial assembly.
“Political parties, media and civil society organisations are developing a consensus for protection from forced marriages and the final draft will be submitted to the provincial assembly for legislation soon,” said SAP-PK’s provincial coordinator Shahnaz Sheedi.
Sharing facts and figures on the incidents of forced marriages and conversions in other provinces, Sheedi said that 260 cases were reported from Punjab, followed by 69 in Sindh, 39 in K-P and six in Balochistan.
Ravi Dawani, the general secretary of the All Hindu Panchayat Pakistan, said that issues of forced marriages and conversion were a menace in society. “On the eve of Diwali, 14,000 workers have not been given salaries,” he pointed out.
He said that there were several laws in Pakistan for the protection of minorities but most were not implemented. He said that Hindu girls have been kidnapped and parents were helpless in the face of the influential people. Dawani suggested that if a religious leader was involved in forced marriages and conversions, he should be punished accordingly.
Dr Jaipal Chaberia, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, questioned why only Hindus were forcibly converted.”Our girls are kidnapped, sexually harassed and subsequently forced to convert.” He lamented that there was no legislation against forced marriages and conversions.
A former ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami Karachi, Muhammad Hussain Mahenti, said that forced marriages and conversions were sensitive issues. “Societal trends are contributing to these kinds of issues in Pakistan. The education curriculum must have lessons of liberty and freedom of choice.”
Advocate Michael Saleem said that forced conversions were a major issue for religious minorities in Pakistan, adding that there was a need to draft a law against such practices. “Girls belonging to minorities are kidnapped, sexually harassed and converted. The kidnapper threatens the girls and their families,” he said.
Advocate Rochiram, women’s rights activist Rafia Gulani and others spoke on the occasion, demanding the provincial government to introduce the law as soon as possible.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2014.