The Fallout Of Forced Conversions

The Fallout Of Forced Conversions
Recently, the Rule of Law Index 2021 ranked Pakistan 130th amongst 139 countries, considering eight factors. These include constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice.

Pakistan’s lowest ranking clearly demonstrates that the laws to protect fundamental human rights are neither evenly applied, nor are the processes by which laws are adopted and enforced, fair and efficient in Pakistan. The treatment of the bill against forced conversions that the parliamentary committee recently rejected without following due process, is the reflection of to what extent the marginalised groups have access to justice, which impedes the rule of law.  

Two weeks earlier, the parliamentary committee disposed of the Prohibition of Forced Conversions Bill, 2021 despite the minority legislators having requested the committee to put the bill to the voting for its submission before the cabinet and the parliament. The committee dubbed the bill against the public interest and the principles of sharia, and termed it an attempt to limit Muslims’ right to religious freedom to convert Non-Muslims to Islam. 

The rejection of the bill came after the prime minister had assured the clerics that no new law repugnant to Islamic guidelines, be it to halt forced conversions or domestic violence, will be enacted during his tenure. It is noteworthy that he has raised his serious concerns over the forced conversions and has called it an un-Islamic practice more than once. The response of the parliamentary committee, the prime minister, the federal and state ministers to the phenomenon of forced conversions, conveys a sense that the narrative of the majority community inspired by the state religion prevails at the expense of human rights and rule of law in Pakistan. 

The matter of forced conversions is not as simple as the clerics and the legislators with conservative views think it is. That is why, they fail to understand the human rights violations that minorities face under the pretense of forced conversions. The stakeholders involved must realise that imposition of the religious ideology of the majority community on religious minorities, while introducing law and policy reforms, is highly discriminatory, and it amply demonstrates the state’s favouritism towards one religious group rather than the state’s neutrality towards all citizens irrespective of their religious identities. 

Looking at the court proceedings in cases involving allegations of forced conversions, it is observed that the honourable courts offer a mixed bag of verdicts that contradict one another. Once in a blue moon, the honourable judges pass verdicts based on the laws of the land, while on the other hand, they largely issue rulings influenced by their personal beliefs. For instance, the honourable courts frequently pass the orders of giving the custody of minor girls to their purported husbands on the pretext of child brides reaching the age of puberty, resorting to the Islamic interpretation regarding the onset of puberty as acceptable age for marriage with underage girls, rather than interpreting the laws of the land, which is causing grave concern for non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan.

The lack of concern and inaction by state institutions to deter forced conversions encourages the perpetrators to commit crimes with impunity, misusing religion as a shield to get away from prosecution and conviction for their criminal offenses. Although, there are a handful of instances where the honourable courts have handed over the underage girl survivors of forced conversion and forced marriage to their parents from minority communities. However, the courts rarely issue orders directing the police to register an FIR against the perpetrators involved in committing acts of abduction, forced marriage, forced conversion, sexual violence, and forgery under the guise of faith conversion, which undermines the right to a fair trial, and rule of law.

Apart from legal and social implications, the government should not ignore the aftereffects of the abuse that underage girls have to face under the veil of faith conversion and marriage. Lack of legal safeguards against forced conversions, places girl children from minority communities at higher risk of facing violence and abuse, and poses a serious threat to their right to education, health, work, and religious freedom.

The adverse consequences of child marriage are not limited to the individuals, but they extend to society at large. The child brides have a greater likelihood of school dropout, health-related complications, lower labour force participation and earnings, and little decision-making power within the family.

In the cases where the survivors of forced conversions reunite with their parents, they struggle to make interactions with their own family members, and they are not accepted by the community. Mostly, the girl survivors face post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts. Depression and detachment have been found to be the most common long-term symptoms among the survivors, as they lack interest in activities previously enjoyed, and they face difficulty in concentrating on studies or work, and they do not feel present in everyday situations.  

It is deplorable that the government has capitulated to certain vested religious interests by denying children particularly girls from minority communities their due right to protection against forced conversions. It is lamentable that the government relied on conservative views and religious arguments, and it did not give due consideration to the legal and logical arguments, given by the Supreme Court and high courts in Pakistan, while interpreting the right to religious freedom (SMC 1 of 2014), the legal capacity and consent of the children for marriage and conversion, in the cases of underage girls namely; Muskan Pumy, Arzoo Raja and Mehik Kumari. 

 The rejection of the bill came after the prime minister had assured the clerics that no new law repugnant to Islamic guidelines, be it to halt forced conversions or domestic violence, will be enacted during his tenure


Regrettably, the PTI government has badly failed to present its clear position on the forced conversions despite the fact that it constituted the parliamentary committee almost two years ago. The rejection of the bill will result in aggravating the miseries of minorities rather than mitigating their sufferings. Therefore, the government needs to regard the progressive judgments issued by the honourable courts which can help the government build the state narrative against forced conversions, based on the standards of human rights. In this regard, the government with the help of media needs to initiate an informed debate, inviting legal and human rights experts along with religious scholars to share their perspectives, and engaging political parties to share their parties’ stance to address the menace of forced conversions.

The parliamentary committee on a note has recommended measures which the government should capitalise on to take steps forward, and bring the stakeholders on board to evolve a consensus for amending the existing laws and strengthening administrative measures to curb forced faith conversions. Without missing out on the opportunity, the government must keep the guiding principle “the constraint and compulsion have no place in religion" at the forefront to deal with any conflict it faces, and should consider enacting a law to introduce forced conversion as a criminal offence under Pakistan Penal Code. This time, the government should not circumvent the realities of forced conversions, and must go far beyond tokenism to ensure equality of citizenship and rights.