March 11th, 2021
By Rehan Piracha and Ahmed Saeed
A converted minor boy in Bahawalpur on Wednesday was reunited with his Hindu parents after a legal battle of one and half years. The Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell provided legal assistance to the boy’s father, Bachoo Ram, to secure his release from the Child Protection Bureau.
A court in Bahawalpur directed the Child Protection Bureau to allow the boy, Kishore, who converted to Islam, to go with his Muslim neighbor with the implied consent of his father.
Upon the insistence of the 15-year-old Kishore, in his order, Additional Sessions Judge Ghulam Hussain Bhinder, let the boy go with his father’s neighbour, Nazim, so that he can assure that Kishore follows the religion of his choice.
The boy had been living in the Child Protection Bureau, Bahawalpur, since September 2019.
On September 21, 2019, Bachoo Ram, a cobbler, had accused Asif Bhatti, an auto mechanic who worked next to his shop, of forcibly putting pressure on his young son to convert. However, the mechanic claimed that Kishore had converted to Islam ‘of his own free will’ and did not wish to live with his parents anymore.
Advocate Rana Rizwan, the counsel of Bachoo Ram, told Voicepk.net that Bachoo Ram had submitted an application to the court for the release of his son from the Child Protection Bureau. He said Kishore appeared before the court and recorded his statement, expressing his wish to go with a Muslim neighbor with the implied consent of his father.
Kishore has now returned to his home in a village near Yazman city. Speaking to Voicepk.net over the phone, the boy said he was happy to return home and meet his siblings after a long time.
His father thanked the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell for their support in regaining custody of his minor boy. Bachoo Ram said that his Muslim neighbor, Nazim, had helped to convince his son to return home, assuring him that he would have full liberty of practicing his faith.
A year of legal battles
On November 27 last year, a guardian court in Bahawalpur rejected the application of a man seeking custody of Kishore. The man had no relation with the boy. However, the court accepted the contention of the parents that the custody of any minor cannot be given to a stranger if the parents are alive.
When Bachoo Ram approached the police for the recovery of his minor son, the police said the child had been sent to the Child Protection Bureau. He revealed to the police that Kishore had been a victim of forced conversion and was in fear of his life.
Then, Bachoo Ram approached the judicial magistrate for custody of his son. During the proceedings, Bachoo Ram’s minor son appeared before the magistrate and told the court that he had converted and wished to go with a stranger called Khalil. The judicial magistrate dismissed Bachoo Ram’s application for custody and ordered that the child remains in the custody of the Child Protection Bureau in Bahawalpur.
Bachoo Ram approaches LHC
Longing to meet his son, Bachoo Ram then approached the Bahawalpur Bench of the Lahore High Court for the custody of his son from the Bureau.
Ram pleaded in his petition that his son, born on December 7, 2005, was a minor under the law. He prayed that the conversion of his minor son be declared illegal, unlawful, against Sharia, and against fundamental rights guaranteed to religious minorities under the Constitution. He sought custody of his son from the Child Protection Bureau.
The LHC bench disposed of his petition of custody saying that a guardian court was already hearing the case at the proper forum. Bachoo then applied to join the proceedings in the guardian court in Yazman. He also filed an application with the additional and sessions judge in Bahawalpur for a meeting with his son because the police barred Bachoo Ram from the meeting saying the Hindu community could harm Kishore for converting to another faith.
However, the court directed the Child Protection Bureau to allow the minor’s meeting with his parents after the police relented and said they had no objection to the meeting.
No law to regulate the religious conversion
According to Nida Aly, Executive Director of Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, there is presently no law to regulate religious conversion in the country. A parliamentary committee is working to legislate to curb forced conversions in the country. In a recent recommendation, the committee had suggested that a legal adult person should apply for a conversion certificate from a district judge if he/she wished to convert to another religion.
Aly said forced conversions have been ignored for years adding to the vulnerability of religious minorities because the government is hesitant to displease religious groups.