Peter Jacob retraces the way to identifying the menace of forced conversions
My journey in the understanding of the issue of forced conversions started in 1995. As executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace in Lahore. I was frequently approached by parents who had lost their daughters to this sheer abuse of law and religion. These families received little support as there were few people who understood the element of coercion and systemic violations behind faith conversions of minority women in particular. Besides helping with the court cases and counselling of victim families, we started gathering the data. We relied on reports in the mainstream media.
As editor of Human Rights Monitor, the annual report on the situation of religious minorities, I analyzed the data of conversions of over 1,700 members of various religious minorities who were reported to have adopted the majority faith identity between 2000 and 2012. A majority of them were women and children but there were some as well. While some of these were voluntary conversions, there was obvious coercion in many cases. We used available platforms to talk about the issue. In 2007, I was involved in writing the first ever Shadow Report presented by the civil society of Pakistan to the UN CEDAW Committee. After we included this issue in the first and then the subsequent shadow reports, the UN CEDAW committee made a specific recommendation to the government of Pakistan in this regard.
Although many malpractices and human rights abuses are continuing – including enticement for changing one’s religion and using conversion to majority faith as an excuse to cover up crimes against women - I am satisfied to the extent that the issue has been recognized.
“In 2007, I was involved in writing the first ever Shadow Report presented by the civil society of Pakistan to the UN CEDAW Committee. The UN CEDAW committee made a specific recommendation to the government of Pakistan in this regard,” says Peter Jacob.
A parliamentary committee was set up in November 2019 to protect minorities from forced conversions. In the meantime the courts have been responsive in some of the cases of forced conversions and forced marriages. One hopes that with the growing awareness about the issue, as a society we are much better equipped in 2020 to deal with the menace of involuntary, unethical and forced conversions.
Recently, we have initiated an online signature campaign addressed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan with specific recommendations which people supporting religious freedom in Pakistan can access on: https://forms.gle/ep1zym3qa7MoKKRW9
The writer is a human rights activist with 28 years of experience. He is currently the director of Centre for Social Justice in Lahore, Pakistan