Pakistan province passes bill outlawing forced conversion of Christians to Islam

Lawmakers in a province in Pakistan have voted to pass a bill that outlaws the forced conversion of Christians to Islam to protect the religious minorities in the country.

(Reuters/Akhtar Soomro)Geeta prays at the Bilquis Edhi Foundation in Karachi, Pakistan, August 6, 2015.

Sindh Province's lawmakers have just passed the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill of 2015, which imposes jail sentence on anyone who forces a person from a religious minority to convert to another faith. Main perpetrators of forced conversions could face up to five years in prison while facilitators could face up to three years in jail, The Christian Post details.

"Forced conversion is an abhorrent and violent offence and an issue that has become prevalent across Sindh [that] must be eliminated by recognizing the importance of tolerance, peace and respect for all religions and persons, irrespective of their religion," according to the bill.

Under the new law, newly converted adults are required to be subjected to a 21-day observation to ensure that they are converting to another religion out of their own accord. The measure was passed after Christians and other religious minorities complained of some Muslims' long-time practice of converting people, especially young girls, to Islam.

Charities say forced conversion to Islam affects at least 1,000 mostly Christian girls every year. Perpetrators often use physical, psychological, and emotional violence to force a person to embrace a new faith, Premier reports.

The approval of the bill criminalizing forced conversion in the Pakistani province of Sindh has gained applause from the director of UK-based group Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), Nasir Saeed. Although it will not totally stop the trend of forced conversion in Pakistan, Saeed said the measure is a great step toward protecting the country's religious minorities.

The CLAAS-UK director lamented the police's lack of action in forced conversion because of fear of reprisals from the Muslim community but said the authorities will now be forced to take action in these cases because of the new measure. He also urged other states in Pakistan to pass the same initiative.