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Asma Jahangir Conference: ‘38 forced conversion cases so far reported this year

By Saadia Salahuddin
November 22, 2021
Asma Jahangir Conference: ‘38 forced conversion cases so far reported this year

LAHORE: The turning down of the bill on Forced Conversion by parliamentary committee has emboldened the elements who conduct forced conversions of underage girls in an organised manner. There is a spike in reported cases of forced conversions. Thirty-eight cases of forced conversions of underage girls have been reported this year.

This was observed by Peter Jacob, a long-time activist for the rights of the minorities and Director Centre for Social Justice, in a session on the theme Freedom of Religion and Belief titled Minorities under Threat – Forced conversions and Marriages at Asma Jahangir Conference.

He termed it a sabotage of people’s protection. He highlighted the problem of targeting young girls in particular and said the nation has been unable to find a way to address this menace because no sincere attempt has been made so far by the government to address this issue.

“We know those who forcibly and arrogantly rejected that bill. The functional committee on human rights was turned into a standing committee which meant curtailing the powers of that committee.

The parliament never discussed rights of the minorities in the twenty years that I have been observing,” he lamented. “My due respect to Qibla Ayaz but was it in the jurisdiction of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) to intervene in forced conversions? The Ministry of Religious Affairs is part of the problem than the solution. The inquiry into the matter was half-baked, half-hearted. They said they did not find any evidence of forced conversion. I ask, did they look for any evidence?”

Dr Qibla Ayaz of CII agreed that the problem needs to be addressed but forced conversions have been reported only from Punjab and Sindh, not from other provinces, Peter Jacob said and suggested that CII and Ministry of Social Justice and Ministry of Human Rights can find solution to this problem with the help of Centre for Social Justice.

Dr Ewlina Olchab, senior researcher on All Party Parliamentary Group and Pakistani minorities, said she has come across cases of abduction of a number of 14-15 year-old girls who are forcibly married to men much older than them. “The state must train the police to investigate such cases,” she said.

Dr Ayra Indrias Patras, Assistant Professor Forman Christian College University, said, “We need to situate the problem of religious conversion of underage girls of minority community in a society that is already riddled with socio-religious hostilities and gendered power relations. There is a thin line to substantiate whether girls are exercising their free choice to marry or are forced to religious conversion. It is a one-way conversion of mostly girls of poor religious minorities, who marry Muslim men and convert to Islam. At times, patriarchal claims of minority communities control and curtail independent choices of minority girls. Women of minority communities are subjected to multiple strands of marginality stemming from lower caste, class, gender and religions,” she said.

The session was moderated by Farida Shaheed, Executive Director Shirkat Gah and sociologist. The other speakers at this session were HE Wendy Gilmour, Canadian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Kulpana Devi, Additional Advocate General of Sindh High Court and member of PPP and Dr Nasreen Rehman, economist and historian and director, National Commission on Forced Marriage (UK).