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A Hindu lawmaker and civil society members in Pakistan have criticised two religious political parties for opposing the Minorities Bill which criminalises forced conversions in the Muslim-majority country.
Last week, Pakistan's southern Sindh province passed a law making "forced conversions" punishable with a life sentence and forbidding minors from changing their religion, in a bid to protect minorities.
Dr Ramesh Kumar, Members of the National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) party, yesterday commended the Pakistan Peoples Party government in Sindh for setting the minimum age for religious conversion to 18, Dawn reported.
"People are issued a CNIC (identity card) and driving licence at 18 and are allowed to vote after 18. In Sindh, the age at which someone can be legally married is also 18 because before that, an individual is considered a child. After this law, conversions before the age of 18 will be considered a crime," Kumar said.
He said that girls belonging to minority religions are kidnapped in Sindh and forcibly married, mostly to seminary students, and that they have no choice but to adapt to their new lives.
Ramesh met Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Senator Sirajul Haq outside the parliament building and asked him not to protest unnecessarily against the bill for minority rights.
Members of the civil society said incidences of forced conversions were increasing across the country, particularly in Sindh, and that the bill in question will go a long way in helping the minorities in Pakistan.
"Conversion is a basic right as marriage is, but just like forced marriage, forced conversions are also a violation of human rights and is against the teachings of Islam as well," said Krishan Sharma, chairman of the REAT Network Pakistan.
"There are two kinds of conversions even now, when Hindus convert after they are preached to by Christian or Muslim missionaries or when they are forcibly converted," he said.
All the provinces should adopt similar laws to protect minorities from forced conversions and forced marriages, Sharma said.
The two larger religious political parties, the JI and the Jamiat Ulema Islam-F, are opposing the new law recently enacted in Sindh, claiming the law is part of a conspiracy to make Pakistan a liberal and secular country.
Talking to the media, JI chief Senator Haq said the law related to religious conversions which was approved by the Sindh Assembly was a violation of the Constitution and was also against the UN Charter.
REOPENS FGN 17
Islamic religious parties and groups have stepped up a campaign demanding the scrapping of the bill passed by the Sindh Assembly last week which carries maximum punishment for forced conversions to Islam.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan and its different factions and other lesser known religious groups have called for protests on Friday against the "un-Islamic" bill which was introduced in the provincial assembly by Hindu lawmaker Nand Kumar Goklani.
Goklani moved the bill after Hindu lawmakers in the country raised the issue of forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam and their marriages to Muslim boys.
Minority lawmakers and groups claim majority of the time Hindu girls are forcibly converted and forced into marriage particularly in the southern Sindh province where the largest number of Pakistani Hindus reside.
Jamaat-e-Islami senator Haq has called on former president Asif Zardari to scrap the bill. Zardari's PPP governs Sindh province and has a majority in the assembly.
(JUI-S) chief, Maulana Samiul Haq has also called for the dismissal of the Sindh Assembly over the passage of a bill against forced conversions.
The bill, adopted on November 23, is called the Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, 2015 and recommends a five-year prison term for perpetrators, whereas facilitators of forced religious conversions will be handed a three-year sentence.
Ahmed Qadri of the Sunni Tehreek said the central government should impose governors rule in Sindh.
He said the party and other religious groups would surround the Sindh assembly on Friday to protest the bill.
"The Sindh government is converting the province into Kafiristan with such un-Islamic decisions," he said demanding imposition of governors rule in Sindh, adding Islam does not allow forced conversions.
The bill says any person from any religion converting to Islam will have to spend 21 days in government care before he can finally convert in a bid to stop forced conversions.