NCRC launches seminal policy brief on minorities’ forced conversions
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The National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) Monday launched its first seminal policy brief on Forced Conversions in an event held here in Islamabad on Monday.
NCRC's policy brief on forced conversions with recommendations after analysis of the Arzoo Case touches upon the gaps in existing laws. The brief also puts forward recommendations for specific interventions by various stakeholders to curb incidents of forced conversions in light of the rights of minors and religious minorities.
Constituted in February 2020 under the National Commission on the Rights of Child Act 2017, the NCRC has been instrumental in advancing child rights and protection since its inception. The Commission is committed to delivering its mandate – examining and reviewing laws and policies, inquiring into child rights violations, contributing to awareness and advocacy initiatives, and researching policy matters related to child rights. Thus far, the Commission has followed up on 170+ child rights violations and issues, ranging from street children, child abuse, children in care institutes, and forced conversion cases.
Underscoring the importance of the research, the Chairperson NCRC, Afshan Tehseen Bajwa said the purpose of this policy brief on forced conversion is to not only bring attention to the scale of the issue but also highlight that the State, relevant authorities, federal and provincial governments have the responsibility to protect from organizations and persons trying to coerce or exploit vulnerable minors.
In addition, she said the state also has the responsibility to provide unbiased and complete access to law and justice resources in cases of abduction and forced conversions.
Iqbal Detho, Member Sindh NCRC, emphasized that the issue of forced conversions is faced by all religious minorities in Pakistan. He emphasized Pakistan’s numerous positive obligations to ensure that Covenant rights are protected by the State.
He outlined the issues related to lack of access to justice and presented the Commission’s recommendations – including, the role of government and legislative bodies; engagement with law enforcement agencies and judicial bodies; mandates of national and provincial human rights institutes; and, the partnership with civil society and media for awareness-raising.
Executive Director Parliamentarian’s Commissions for Human Rights, Shafique Chaudhry; Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights, Lal Chand Malhi, and National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) Member Minority, Manzoor Masih, reiterated the need for engaging policymakers and parliamentarians to build momentum on this issue.
They were of the view that it is imperative to build a critical mass of parliamentarians engaged in Freedom of Religion and Belief issues, apprise them of ongoing policy research, and build their capacity to ensure effective protection of minority and child rights by legislative and political influence.
Executive Director Parliamentarian’s Commissions for Human Rights, Shafique Chaudhry pointed out that the majority of the forced conversion cases are of underage girls from religious minorities, which inextricably ties the issue with child rights and child protection.
In addition, Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Human Rights, Lal Chand Malhi, highlighted the dearth of legislation regarding this matter and data collection on forced conversions.
Deputy Representative UNICEF Pakistan, Dr Inoussa Kabore, acknowledged the importance of having a National Human Rights Institute such as the NCRC for safeguarding human rights.
He said, “UNICEF is working with the Government of Pakistan and the NCRC to implement child protection legislative frameworks in various provinces of Pakistan. This mechanism coordinates a government response to protect children from abuse – sexual, physical, emotional – and neglect and forced conversions. UNICEF will continue to support the Government for implementation, service delivery and recommendations.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Ahmed Quraishi, journalist and activist, said, "Forced conversions violate multiple Pakistani laws and international conventions, from rights of the child to human rights, human dignity, and freedom of belief. National Commission on the Rights of Child under the leadership of Afshan Tehseen Bajwa and her team have shown courage and tenacity in producing a policy guideline on forced conversions. This will help strengthen state and national narrative on this abhorrent practice. We have a long way to go, but this is a step forward."
Ambassador of European Union (EU) Pakistan Androullah Kaminara called for an all-inclusive human rights approach in order to address the complex forms of problems that arose at the intersection between freedom of religion or belief, interfaith harmony and minority rights, “Freedom of faith and interfaith harmony are top issues for the EU, particularly the age of marriage and conversion age.”
Speakers at the event agreed that ensuring minority rights entails safeguarding and protecting their distinct identities – religious, gender, ethnic, cultural, gender – by law.
The Commission recommended stronger policy frameworks and increased access to law and justice in accordance with international commitments and the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973.
To achieve these, the NCRC asked the media personnel, Government, and all the relevant stakeholders to recommit themselves to serve and deliver basic human dignity extending to all minorities and children in Pakistan.