KARACHI   -   PML-Functional member Sindh Assembly Nand Kumar on Friday submitted a bill against forced conversion, saying that the bill includes around 25 percent of details of past bill that became controversial.

It is to be recalled that the Sindh Assembly had passed a bill against forced conversion in November 2016 but later the PPP-led Sindh government asked the then governor Justice (r) Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui against ratifying it following concerns raised by religious quarters.

The PML-F lawmaker, who presented the bill earlier, on Friday, tabled a new bill titled Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Act 2019.

Talking to The Nation, Nand Kumar said that the new bill has tried to address the concerns raised by the religious fraternity and only include 25 percent material from the past bill.

“I am however, ready to make amendments to the bill if necessary and pointed out,” he assured, adding that the issue of forced conversion is important and should be addressed.

He said that there is a dire need for criminalise the forced conversion as there is no such law present against it. “All those people living in the country have equal rights and it is the responsibility of the state to guard their rights under Constitution of the country,” stressed.

SALIENT FEATURES OF THE NEW BILL

As per objective written in the bill, it is aimed at protecting child against forced conversion and providing the right of freedom of religion to prevent forced conversions and matters related to it.

While defining procedures to be followed as soon as such incident of conversion occurs, clause seven of the bill states that a police officer or any other authorized person soon after receiving information of the incident should take “the victim” into custody and produce him in a court of law within 24-hours.

The victim shall immediately be taken to the nearest shelter home of a service provider or a child protection institute and the accused shall be taken to the nearest police station.

The court shall then pass an order to take the victim to the nearest shelter home or child protection institute, it adds.

A victim may be allowed by the court to meet their parents, guardian and any other person deemed fit. According to the proposed law, the case of forced conversion shall be disposed of by the court within a period of ninety days.

It further implies that those involved in forced conversion and marriages of child should be prosecuted not only under this law but also under marriage restraint act, wrongful confinement act of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), rape under sections 375, 376 of penal code, kidnapping and abduction of women and compelling her to marriage under section 365 (b), 361, 364 (A) and 367 of PPC and relevant sections of bonded labour abolition bill.

AGE OF CONVERSION

The bill that earlier mentioned the age limit for the conversion to 18-years is now removed in the new draft of the bill. However, it still said that a court of a first class judicial magistrate would determine if anyone converted is a child or not and if proved that a child is converted then an injunction prohibition order be issued.

It further said that anyone violating injunction order would be punished for six months and the marriage and conversion of child would stand nullified upon decision of conviction of accused.

This part of the previous bill also became disputed after the religious scholars cited that Islamic history has examples of conversion before the age of 18.   

In past when the bill was passed from the house, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq met with PPPP President Asif Ali Zardari and convinced him to withdraw the bill over inclusion of this specific section and many others.

The PPPP-led provincial government succumbed to pressure from religious fraternity and asked the governor to return bill for re consideration without assenting it. The bill was, however, never re-assessed or discussed in the assembly, despite the ruling party earlier claiming it a big achievement towards safeguarding rights of the minorities.  MMA lawmaker Syed Abdul Rasheed, while commenting on the draft bill, expressed his ignorance of the bill being submitted and said that even Islam prohibits forced conversion.

However, anyone, wilfully converting to the Islam is allowed and the Islamic history also has examples of child conversions.  He said that they would study the bill closely and would comment on it after that.