October 25th, 2020
By Asra Haque
The Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights and the Centre for Social Justice compiled the data of 156 incidents of forced conversions which took place between 2013 and 2019. A vast majority of the girls were minors, with numerous cases involving girls as young as twelve years old.
Religious groups oppose a minimum age for conversion or marriage, positing that this is not sanctioned by Islam. However, minorities, especially the Hindu community, insist that at the very least girls are coerced to convert and are often married to older men. In some cases, they are later abandoned by their husbands and then cannot return to their own families.
On this matter, voicepk.net invited Senator Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, head of the parliamentary committee on forced religious conversions; Sulema Jahangir, a dual-qualified advocate of the high courts in Pakistan and a solicitor of the senior court of England and Wales. She is currently writing a book on women’s civil rights and liberties in Pakistan, and is a board member of the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell; Kapil Dev, a Sindh-based development sector consultant, and human rights activist with a particular concern for equal rights for minorities.
The panel discussed the lacunae in the existing legislature, obstacles to the implementation of laws against forced conversions especially in the case of minor Hindu and Christian girls who are made to convert and marry older Muslim men, whether the minority community can access justice, current government solutions to the problem and whether such solutions are viable or enough.