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No one can be forced to change religion, govt assures PA

By Our Correspondent
June 09, 2023

Concerned members of the Sindh Assembly were given a firm assurance on Thursday by the provincial government that no one in the province could be forced to change his or her religion under compulsion at gunpoint. The assurance was given by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mukesh Kumar Chawla as the Sindh Assembly took up the issue of a recent incident of kidnapping of a young girl belonging to the Hindu community in the province.The House witnessed a heated debate on the issue. MPA of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Lal Chand Ukrani raised the issue of the kidnapping of 14-year-old Sohna Sharma from Qazi Ahmed.

The PPP legislator said that after the abduction of the girl from the Hindu fraternity, her Nikah Nama had emerged. The concerned lawmaker said that they had respect for every religion but the forced conversions were unacceptable.He told the legislature that the incident had resulted in agitation all over the province. The MPA said that the law of the land also did not allow the change of religion by a girl as young as 14 years old. Sindh Minister for Minorities Affairs Giyan Chand Essrani termed the incident sorrowful and said that the law prohibited the change of the religion of a girl aged less than 18 years. He added that the law also did not allow the marriage of an underage girl. The minorities’ affairs minister said that he had been in touch with the Sindh police chief on the issue as the latest instance of forced marriage had also saddened him.

Sindh Minister for Women Development Shehla Raza said that the incident was highly condemnable. She maintained that a girl below the age of 18 was not allowed to marry in Sindh as per the law. She suggested that the Sindh Child Protection Authority should take the custody of the girl after her recovery. Mufti Qasim Fakhri, an MPA of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, said forced conversion of religion was not allowed in Islam but he maintained that as per Islamic principles, there should not be any age-related restrictions when it came to embracing Islam.

The parliamentary affairs minister assured the House that the government would implement the law adopted against forced conversion of religion. He maintained that wilful change of religion was acceptable but no one could be forced to change his or her religion under compulsion. Meanwhile, the House passed the Sindh Shaheed Recognition and Compensation (Amendment) Bill 2023 to make a provision to allow the heirs of civilian martyrs in the province to receive compensation on a par with the compensation package for the martyred personnel belonging to the government agencies. The legislature also passed the Karachi Water and Sewerage Corporation Bill 2023 to transform Karachi’s water utility into a corporation for improving its organisational affairs and customer service.