Religious scholars and clerics in Pakistan have expressed “serious reservations” over the draft anti-forced conversion bill that is being proposed in the country.
The religious leaders are objecting to several provisions of the proposed measure, including the minimum age of conversion.
They said the bill as it currently stands cannot be implemented.
They noted that the minimum age of 18 years for conversion was incorrect, and contrary to the draft domestic violence bill.
But Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, said opposition from Muslim groups over the legal age limit for conversion “is beyond my understanding.”
“The legal age limit is set in many other areas of life. The marriage age is set at 16 in Punjab, and 18 in Sindh,” said Saeed.
He said voting age has been set to 18 and to be a member of parliament one cannot be younger than 25 years old. “Then why not for converting to Islam?” he said.
CLAAS is an interdenominational organization working for Christians who are experiencing persecution because of their faith in Pakistan.
Saeed said that in more than half the countries around the world, the legal age of maturity is 18.
“Conversion to any religion is everyone’s right but not forcefully and not before the age of 18, it must be criminalized,” he said.
He said that based on reports, majority of girls who have allegedly been converted to Islam by their kidnapers are 12 to 14 years of age and 99 percent are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam.
“In the cases I have studied, girls were first converted to Islam and then forced to marry on the same day. This is all to escape from legal action and to give the cover of religion to the crime,” he said.
Saeed accused the police of “turning a blind eye to these crimes and courts are giving protection under the cover of religion.”
He said, however, that parents and minority communities of Pakistan are “crying for justice and to stop this practice.”
“They demand a minimum age of 18 be set for conversion to Islam,” he said, adding that many human rights organizations have raised concern and have questioned the government of Pakistan.
“This is a very crucial matter for the religious minorities, therefore the government should not be pressured to set the minimum age at 18 for conversion to Islam or any other religion,” he said.
The Prohibition of Forced Religious Conversion Bill has been put forward by Naveed Amir Jeeva, a Christian legislator.
Human rights groups have been asking the government of Pakistan to pass a law that would criminalize abduction, forced conversion, and forced marriage.
Early this year, a parliamentary committee recommended that only a “mature person” be allowed to change their religion.