Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

Pakistan’s forced conversions shame Imran Khan

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The parents of Suntara Kohli, Bhagwanti Kohli, Aisha Megwad and Priyanka Kumari continue their protests against the abductions and forced conversions of their daughters. The four Hindu girls were among seven cases of forced conversion in Pakistan reported by local newspapers last week alone. Suntara, Bhagwanti and Aisha are still teenagers; the former only 15. But their stories are far from exceptional here.

At least 1,000 non-Muslim girls are forcibly converted to Islam in the country annually, according to a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report. Many of these girls belong to the Hindu community in Sindh, where most of Pakistan’s eight million Hindus live. Locals claim that such abductions are so common they affect ‘every other family‘, with a vast majority of those targeted underage. Some victims are as young as 12 years old. 

And yet where is the law dedicated to curtailing the relentless spree of forced conversions? Two such bills, tabled in 2016 and then 2019, were shot down. Among other clauses, the bills demanded that the minimum age for changing one’s religion be set to 18 years, jail terms be sanctioned for anyone guilty of coercion, and a 21-day period in a safe house be mandated for the person seeking conversion to ensure that the decision has been taken out of free will.

Turning down the first bill against forced conversion, former Sindh governor Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui, said: ‘When Hazrat Ali [the fourth caliph in Sunni sect, and the first imam for the Shia] can convert to Islam at a young age [9 years], why can’t Hindu girls?’ 

Laws barring forced conversions have been deemed ‘un-Islamic’ by some for trying to set an age limit for embracing Islam. A similar Islamist resistance has long been held against attempts to eradicate child marriage in Pakistan, with the Council of Islamic Ideology citing Prophet Muhammad’s marriage

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