ISLAMABAD: During the last three decades no legislation was made to protect the rights of minorities in Pakistan. Moreover, through the 18th constitutional amendment in 2010, the chapter relating to minorities was handed over to provinces, further narrowing the scope for them.

This was stated by Advocate Ali Imran at a ‘consultative meeting on draft bills on hate crimes and births, deaths and marriages’ organised by an NGO, Pattan, at a local hotel on Tuesday.

He said most of the legislation on minorities was made in the 19th century and later incorporated into the Constitution.

The Constitution says that every citizen has equal rights, while under Article 36, the state shall safeguard the interests and rights of minorities. However, during the last three decades, no legislation was made to protect the rights of minorities, he said.

Mr Imran, who played a role in drafting the bills, said the environment was now suitable to table the bills in parliament, claiming 78 parliamentarians had been taken on board over the rights of minorities and hate speeches.

He said the major reason for violence against minorities was hate speech, adding there is no definition of a biased motivated crime. Social media is being used for hate crimes, he added.

Lawyer says draft bills on hate crimes, marriages and births will be tabled in parliament soon

“We have suggested that there should be punishment for hate speech on the social media. Moreover, political parties should be bound to give tickets to minorities on general seats.”

He said five per cent of the winnable seats should be given to minorities and out of these two per cent should be allotted to women.

The registration of births, weddings and deaths is also a big issue. “Churches don’t provide the record of weddings to the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) due to which we have suggested that through the legislation the churches should be bound to provide the record to Nadra,” he said.

A representative of Bahai community, who requested not to be named, told Dawn that minorities dont want a stamp from parliament to prove their marriage or that their children are legal.

“When someone get married abroad they are required by the concerned embassy to show a marriage certificate thats issued by Nadra. However, Nadra refuses to register the marriage,” he said.

In Pakistan, legislation takes time, so there should be an arrangement under which the marriage certificate should be issued by Nadra.

He said under an executive order Nadra can be directed to issue marriage certificates to minorities and if there is any doubt it can be counter-attested by the ministry of minorities.

“Moreover, if a bill has to be tabled in parliament, it should be for all minorities not just for Christians,” he said.

However, Mr Imran said wedding record of Muslims was registered with the union councils and sent to Nadra as they have family laws. Similarly, in the bill there is a mention of the church because except for Christians, no other minority community has family laws.

Social activist Dr Rakhshinda Parveen said mostly laws about Muslim women were discussed but no one spoke about minority women.

“Rights of women belonging to minorities and their issues such as dowry should also be taken into consideration while drafting a bill,” she said.

Asia Foundation’s Nadia Tariq Ali said there was an urgent need to address issues of the minorities because their problems were continuously increasing.

“Recently, the CDA submitted a report to the Supreme Court that Islamabad’s demography was changing because of the arrival of Christians in the city,” she said.

Deputy director of the foundation Amina Elahi said consultations were underway to collect recommendations which would be incorporated in the draft bills.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2015