LAHORE: The minorities councillors have demanded the administration and legislators to take concrete steps on forced conversions and blasphemy law issues. Expressing their concerns at alarming increase in the cases of forced conversions (of religion), they said 15 cases of forced conversions were reported in 2020 and the number rose to 60 in 2021.
“Around 70 percent of people who were converted forcibly were under 18 years of age in 2021,” they alleged. They were participating in a convention of the minorities councillors held at a local hotel on Saturday. Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Ijaz Alam Augustine was the chief guest.
The councillors demanded measures to stop the forced conversions and that the matter should be taken on humanitarian grounds. They said a parliamentary committee in the National Assembly was authorised to draft a bill on forced conversions in 2019 and the draft was finalised but the members, including minorities’ representatives also, did not fix the age of conversion to 18 years.
The councillors demanded fixing the minimum age of 18 years for anyone who wanted to change religion and an additional session judge should also be given authority to interview the person who wanted to convert in seven days to check whether he/she was willfully changing religion or was being forced to do so.
“The judge should also depute any religious scholar and give 90 days to the complainant and later they should issue a religious conversion certificate,” the participants said and added that if the judge found that the person was being forced to convert, then the person involved in the crime should be punished for five to 10 years rigorous punishment.
They said the recent forced conversion bill was not drafted according to the aspirations of the minorities and they would reject it.
The councillors also demanded inclusion of their suggestions in devising development schemes and sanctioning funds for the minority communities.
The participants demanded the local government representatives of the minorities should also be given access to the record of birth and death while women representation on minority seats should also be increased. They said the local governments should devise development schemes for the minorities and their representatives should be given appropriate funds for them.
They urged the provincial governments, political parties and minority representatives to devise strategies to ensure representation of the minorities in decision-making bodies.
They demanded the government should also ensure provision of employment and education quota and conducted a consensus of the minorities.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2022