ISLAMABAD: The Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions on Monday recommended that only a mature person may be allowed to change their religion and that too after appearing before an additional sessions judge of the area.

The special committee against forced conversions held a meeting chaired by Senator Anwarul Haq Kakar in Parliament House. It recommended to call the draft as ‘Stymie Forced Religious Conversion Bill.’

The recommendations will be forwarded to the Senate chairman and the upper house will decide to forward the draft to any relevant ministry.

The committee witnessed arguments as members stressed forwarding the draft to Ministry of Human Rights whereas Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan asked for sending it to Ministry of Religious Affairs instead.

Parliamentary committee says only mature person allowed to change religion after appearing before additional sessions judge

“Under the rules, the relevant ministry is the religious affairs and the draft has to be forwarded to it,” Pir Qadri said, adding his ministry will get the draft vetted into a bill from the law division and present it in the house.

Finally, it was agreed that the decision would be made by the Senate chairman.

The recommendations were prepared by a subcommittee headed by Senator Dr Sikandar Mandhro and it included Senator Mohammad Ali Khan Saif and MNA Lal Chand.

The key point of the draft recommendations included validation of conversion. Any person, who is not a child and able and willing to convert to another religion, will apply for a conversion certificate from the additional sessions judge of the area where the person ordinarily resides.

The draft suggested that the application form needed to include particulars of the person willing to convert to another religion such as their name, age, gender, CNIC number, details of parents, siblings, children and spouse (if any), current religion and the reason for conversion.

The committee suggested that the additional sessions judge shall set a date for an interview within seven days of receipt of the application for conversion.

“On the date provided, the person shall present himself/herself before the additional sessions judge who shall ensure that the conversion is not under any duress and not due to any deceit or fraudulent misrepresentation.”

The additional sessions judge may, upon the request of the person, arrange his/her meeting with religious scholars of the religion the person wishes to convert to.

Briefing the committee, Senator Sikandar Mandhro said a clause had been added under which the additional sessions judge may grant 90 days to the person to undertake a comparative study of the religions and return to the office of the judge.

“This will discourage emotion based decisions or conversions under duress,” Senator Mandhro told the committee.

The draft also stated that only after satisfaction the additional sessions judge may issue the certificate of change of religion.The members also stressed the need for continuation of the forum to oversee implementation of the recommendations made by the parliamentary body against forced conversions and forced marriages, especially of girls belonging to the non-Muslim communities.

Published in Dawn, February 16th, 2021

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