Forced conversion of minor girls in Pakistan
During a recent meeting of the Parliamentary Commission for the rights of minorities in the Pakistan Senate, the Minister for Religious Affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, said he does not support a restriction on religious conversion before 18 years of age. If someone wishes to change their religion before reaching the age of 18, it is their choice, he said.
It begs the question whether the Minister would extend this freedom to convert to Christianity or Hinduism to his own minor daughter or granddaughter? probably not.
So why is this “privilege” only afforded to the minorities young girls. Or put it another way, would the police, judges and the the Minister himself, allow a 12-year-old girl to drive a car because she wants to drive, the answer will certainly be, No. Then, why the inconsistency in allowing a minor to take this life changing decision?
And of course there is even more to it than this.
According to the law of Pakistan, sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape and carries a death sentence, or a minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. There is no defence.
Yet, the easiest way for a child molester to get around this law is to abduct a minor girl from non-Muslim background, convert and to marry her immediately, enabling him to justify his child abuse. The production of a conversion certificate, and a marriage certificate performed often in the same mosque by same religious leader, means that the police officers and the judicial officials consider the perpetrator in a more favourable light than if they were simply considering the abuse of a young girl.
It is incomprehensible and wholly illogical that girls born and brought up in Islam cannot be married before the age of 16, but a girl who is a complete stranger to her “adopted” faith is accorded this “license” instantly. It’s worse than illogical, worse than incomprehensible, and beyond the pale that any young girl can have her life ruined in this way, and with the connivance of the authorities.
I recently took part in the Inquiry into this practice which was instigated by the Al-Party Parliamentary Group for Pakistan Minorities. Evidence revealed that the moment a conversion certificate is issued, the dynamics of the case change. In effect, it appears to deter the police from lodging FIR – making it essential to regulate the process before it reaches that point.
Barrister Ambreen Qureshi, a witness at the First Session of the APPG Hearings, told the inquiry:
“After an abduction, the first thing an abductor does is to obtain a Conversion Certificate. Anyone with a mere Rs.20 (0.00456 GBP) can get a conversion certificate from a local mosque/madrasa. The low cost makes it easy for an abductor to obtain a Conversion Certificate and marry the victim, sometimes in the same mosque.”
Be very clear, any conversion to another religion is a life-changing event.
Even in the case of adults, such acts of conversion take place after years of careful contemplation and meditation.
Conversion must be freely entered into and never be the result of coercion. Where a minor is involved there can be appalling ulterior motives which require the State to take protective action.
The Government of Pakistan should not look away from a cruel practice which destroys young lives and does huge damage to the reputation of a great country. The Government should implement the recommendations of the Senate Committee on Minority Rights, setting the minimum age for voluntary religious conversion at 18 years, in accordance with the international norms and standards. And they should do it as a matter of urgency.