Implementing a 60-day ‘cooling off’ period could help Pakistan tackle forced conversions and marriages, a new All-Party Parliamentary report suggests.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Pakistani Minorities, joined by Brunel University London’s Dr Javaid Rehman, visited Pakistan in late 2018 to explore the religious minority rights situation in the country.
Their report, published in September 2019 – available online – makes a series of sweeping recommendations covering topics such as blasphemy laws, discrimination in the education system, and forced marriages and conversions. In particular, the report highlights the ongoing issue of young women from religious minority backgrounds being abducted and forcibly converted – girls that are sometimes quickly married as a way of fortifying a conversion. The report recommends there be a 60-day ‘cooling off’ period after an alleged forced conversion in which the young girl in question should not be allowed to marry.
“It is often a consequence of abductions, that forced conversion and forced marriage go hand in hand,” said Dr Rehman, a Professor of International Human Rights Law at Brunel and the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, who co-authored the report.
“This cooling off period will allow matters to be fully investigated before a marriage takes place, and for support and advice to be given to the potential victim of coercion and abduction. During this time, the abducted girl and the abductor should not live together.”
Pakistani NGOs estimate that as many as 1000 Hindu and Christian girls are kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and forcibly married annually in Pakistan. The recommendations are intended to protect religious minorities against this type of human rights violations, which disproportionately effect young girls below the age of 18. Forced marriages are also a serious concern for Muslim girls, including British Muslim girls. In recent years there have been numerous cases of young British women falling victim to forced marriage when visiting Pakistan.
“In 2016, the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) bill was attempting to criminalise forced conversions in the province, but it was not passed into law because of political pressures,” said Dr Rehman.
“This report recommends passing the original 2016 Protection of Minorities Bill into law and implementing additional protections for religious minorities such as, providing a formal complaints procedure, promoting the message that coercion is against religious teachings and giving diversity training to police officers.”
“When the police believe a Hindu, Sikh or Christian girl has been converted to Islam, they tend to ignore the violations of rights and fail to take action against men who were responsible for this conversion because they are driven by their religious moralities and view conversion to Islam as overtly positive.”
The report also recommends raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 for women in Pakistan, up from the current legal age of 16, and instituting a national register for all marriages to ensure people are complying with marriage laws.
The report was launched in the Houses of Parliament on 9 September 2019 and members of All Parties Parliament Groups intend to raise the issues and highlight the recommendations with the British government in the coming weeks.
“We intend to have meetings with the relevant ministers in the British government, foreign office and department for international development to highlight the recommendations in this report and seek their response on what they are going to do about it. The idea is to make change,” said Dr Rehman.
The full report can be found here: Religious Minorities of Pakistan: Report of a Parliamentary Visit.
Simone McNichols-Thomas, Media Relations
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