February 18th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha
As part of a proposed bill on prevention of forced conversion, a parliamentary panel has recommended that a legally adult person should be allowed to convert his or her religion, following a certificate issued by a judge after a personal appearance.
The recommendation was shared at a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions in Islamabad on February 16. The meeting, chaired by Senator Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, discussed the Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, 2021. Senator Kakar recommended that the proposed draft should be called ‘Stymie Forced Religious Conversion Bill’.
A sub-committee, headed by Senator Dr. Sikandar Mandhro, presented its draft recommendations. Senator Mohammad Ali Khan Saif and MNA Lal Chand Malhi are the two other members of the sub-committee.
Procedure for conversion certificate
The main point of the draft recommendations included the procedure of conversion.
Any adult individual will have to apply for a conversion certificate from the additional sessions judge of the place of his residence. According to the draft recommendations, the application form of conversion certificate will include personal details of the person willing to convert to another religion such as name, age, gender, CNIC number, details of parents, siblings, children and spouse (if any), current religion and the reason for conversion.
The committee suggested that the additional sessions judge shall set a date for an interview within seven days of receipt of the application for conversion.
“On the date provided, the person shall present himself/herself before the additional sessions judge who shall ensure that the conversion is not under any duress and not due to any deceit or fraudulent misrepresentation,” the draft reads.
The additional sessions judge may, upon the request of the person, arrange his/her meeting with religious scholars of the religion the person wishes to convert to. Briefing the committee, Senator Sikandar Mandhro said a clause had been added under which the additional sessions judge may grant 90 days to the person to undertake a comparative study of the religions and return to the office of the judge.
“This will discourage emotion based decisions or conversions under duress,” Senator Mandhro told the committee. The draft also stated that only after satisfaction the additional sessions judge may issue the certificate of change of religion.
However, Senator Mandhro told Voicepk.net that the proposed recommendations of the sub-committee were subject to acceptance, rejections and amendments by legal drafting experts.
Draft bill in process
Senator Mandhro said the Stymie Forced Religious Conversion Bill is in process of drafting. “This has been long standing complaint of persons belonging to minorities in Pakistan especially for their girls to be kidnapped or abducted and married to Muslim men,” he added.
Explaining the salient features of the bill, Senator Mandhro said that kidnapping, abduction and child marriage are already codified crimes, but there is no specific law punishing forced conversion with criminal intent.
“So the law is being drafted to prohibit this practice in all its manifestations and fix punishments in accordance of severity of situations,” he explained.
In the meeting, Senator Kakar praised the efforts of the members and the role of the Ministries of Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony, Human Rights and Parliamentary Affairs. The committee thanked the Prime Minister, Chairman Senate and Speaker National Assembly of Pakistan for taking special interest in the matter.
Being the last meeting of the term, the committee members stressed the need for continuation of the forum. The committee members asserted that the bill must be forwarded to the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR). However, as per rules the bill was likely to be sent to the concerned Ministry of Religious Affairs.
The meeting was attended by senators Rana Maqbool Ahmed and Sikandar Mandhro. MNAs Shunila Ruth, Jai Prakash, Lal Chand, Dr Darshan, Keshoo Mal Kheeal Das, Ramesh Lal, Naveed Amir Jeeva. Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Ali Muhammad Khan also attended the meeting.