KARACHI - Sindh Assembly yesterday unanimously passed a law against forced conversion of religion, in a bid to protect minorities in the province.

The new law declares forced conversion a crime and recommends a five year punishment for perpetrators and a three year sentence for facilitators.

The Sindh Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill-2015 was proposed a year ago by Nand Kumar Goklani, a Hindu legislator from the PML-F.

The law will focus on the right of freedom to all persons for providing liberty in making choice of marriage.

The bill said that no one shall be approached to change religion until they attain age of maturity - 18 years. And the conversion of a minor to another religion will not be recognised.

Under the newly passed bill, forcibly converting a minor is also a punishable offence, while adults will be given 21 days to consider their decision to convert.

"It is necessary to criminalise forced conversions and provide protection for those who are victims of this abhorrent practice," an excerpt of the bill read.

It called the heinous practice a ‘violent offence that must be eliminated’ by recognising the importance of tolerance and respect for all religions.

The legislation was necessitated because the practice of forced conversions, particularly of Hindus to Islam, has remained common across the Sindh for years.

Exact figures are unverifiable, but hundreds of people are believed to undergo forced conversions each year.

"It is a historic law we have carved and passed," Nand Kumar Goklani, said. "This will end the plight of minority Hindus, who will feel more protected now," added the mover of the bill.

In 2015, the South Asia Partnership-Pakistan in its report revealed that at least 1,000 girls were forcibly converted to Islam in the Muslim majority nation of some 200 million, vast majority of them in Sindh.

It mentioned that he cases of the forced conversions had been reported from various parts of Sindh including Jacobabad, Tharparkar, Umerkot, Kashmore, Kandhkot, Ghotki, Larkana and Sukkur.

The report defined the forced conversation as a person or persons’ use of pressure, force or threat to make another person adopt another religion.

This year in June, the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs termed forced conversion illegal and against the preaching of Islam.

Earlier on November 17, Sindh Assembly passed a bill to establish a commission to protect the rights of the monitories in the province. The 14-member commission is mandated to take suo moto action on the issues of minorities and legislation pertaining to issues of non-Muslims residence in Sindh.

OTHER LEGISLATIVE BUSINESS

On Thursday (yesterday), Sindh Assembly met for two hours and two minutes. The speaker presided over the sitting which was also attended by the deputy speaker, the chief minister, and the Parliamentary leaders of PPP, MQM, PML-F and PTI. However, the Leader of the Opposition was absent.

The house referred the Voluntary Social Welfare Agencies (Registration and Control) (Sindh Amendment) Bill, 2016; the Sindh Workers Welfare Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2016; and the Sindh Employees Social Security (Amendment) Bill, 2016 to relevant standing committees.

During the session five ‘starred questions’ were taken up and responded to by the relevant ministers. The lawmakers also asked 26 supplementary questions. The speaker rejected an adjournment motion of a PTI lawmaker regarding presence of ghost hospitals and health facilities in province.

The House took up four out of five call attention notices on various issues of public importance. It also elected two PPP lawmakers - Dr Shajeela Laghari and Faraz Dero - for their representation in Board of Sindh Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (STEVTA).