Christian religious and political leaders have expressed serious concerns over the results of Pakistan’s 2017 census, which was only made public recently.
The Population and Housing Census reported that Pakistan’s Christian population is declining.
According to official estimates from the 1998 census, Christians made up 1.59 percent of Pakistan’s total population, then 132 million.
The 2017 census, however, reports that Christians now comprise only 1.27 percent of the total population of 207.68 million.
“We believe that the figures pertaining to the Christian population have been grossly underreported in the 2017 census,” said Bishop Azad Marshall in an interview with Pakistan Today.
The prelate said several factors might have contributed to the “inaccuracy of the data,” including ignoring Christians living in small pockets across the country and incomplete filling of the census forms.
A large number of Christian community members are “not educated enough” while many people are not able to obtain national identity cards and register the birth of their children.
“However, we can also not rule out hidden agendas behind the shockingly low numbers of the Christian population,” said Bishop Marshall.
Christians have expressed fear that due to the lower numbers reported in the census, they will be allocated less political representation in Pakistan’s national and provincial legislatures.
More Christians will also likely be excluded from government welfare and employment schemes due to the “undercount.”
Albert David, a member of the National Commission for Minorities, told Pakistan Today that Christians should carry out their own census in four or five districts to check the authenticity of the 2017 census.
“If the figures do not match the government numbers, we can then challenge the census results in the courts and demand a fresh census of minorities,” he said.
In its annual report for 2020, the International Religious Freedom Office at the US Department of State highlighted Pakistan’s worsening religious freedom conditions for Christians.
Citing civil society reporting, the report focuses heavily on the fact that many individuals have been imprisoned on blasphemy charges, at least 35 of whom had received death sentences.
The report said that due to Pakistan’s widespread discrimination and religious intolerance, the Christian community is extremely overrepresented in dangerous, unsanitary jobs.
Christians make up between 80 percent to 90 percent of the sanitation workforce, including the country’s sewer workers, street sweepers, and janitors.
The US State Department report adds more weight to the growing criticism that Pakistan is facing internationally for upholding its blasphemy law and enabling discrimination against religious minorities.