The Anti-Forced Conversion Bill 2021 was recently prepared by Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights and aimed to protect underage Christians and Hindu girls from being kidnapped and forced Conversion.
This week, Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs rejected a bill that would have criminalized “forcible conversion after threats to call for violent protests from Islamic clerics and scholars,” according to The Media Line. The Anti-Forced Conversion Bill 2021 was recently prepared by Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights and aimed to protect underage girls from being kidnapped and forced to marry and convert to Islam.
The law, if passed, would have forbidden the conversion of a non-Muslim to another religion, including Islam, until the expressed age of maturity, 18 years old. The consequences per violation would have been five to ten years in prison and fines of up to Rs100,000.
In 2018, UNICEF reported that roughly 18% of Pakistani women aged 20-24 were married before age 18, but how many cases were coerced remains unknown.
Supporters of the anti-forced conversion bill feel the decision was skewed towards the majority and claim that conflicts of interest arose once the draft was constructed. Hindu parliamentarian, Lal Chand, called the Ministry’s decision “strange.” The draft was initially sent to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony for review. In turn, the Ministry consulted the Council of Islamic Ideology, which involved “Mian Mithu, a cleric known for his alleged involvement in forced Hindu conversions,” according to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA). In a separate article, UCA explains how Mithu arranges marriages, houses new couples, and rejects payments for the return of religious minority girls because he believes Islam requires these as acts of service.
Chairman of the National Minorities Alliance of Pakistan, Lala Robin Daniel, told The Media Line that the decision to send the bill to the Ministry of Religious Affairs was wrong because it pertained to minorities’ rights. Daniel argued that “the bill should have been sent to the cabinet for approval and from there it should have been taken up by the parliament.”
According to UCA, Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister, Pir Noor ul Haq Qadri, maintains that forced conversions are prohibited under Islamic law. Muslims feared that the anti-conversion law would have undermined and caused a lack of interest in Islam.
Despite expressed protections, advocates for minorities say forced conversions are increasing, while majority leaders maintain that cases are rare and are highly publicized.
Christian pastors continue to call on the international community for help. Nadeem Bhatti, president of Canadian Aid to Persecuted Christians, claims the bill’s rejection “means more rapes and forced conversions in Pakistan,” according to UCA.
Notwithstanding the opposition, international pressure is working. Though several bills have failed, efforts persist, and advocates hope laws will be passed protecting minors from forced conversion. Therefore, the United States must continue encouraging the Pakistani government to prosecute violators under the current rules or pass laws with more significant consequences for those forcibly converting underage minorities.