Pakistan Minorities Day: Forced conversions ‘scourge’ of vulnerable

As Pakistan commemorates its annual National Minorities Day on 11 August, Christian leaders draw attention to the ongoing reality of forced conversions.

By Devin Watkins

“Let’s start with the question of forced conversions, a scourge in the life of Pakistan’s religious minorities.”

Peter Jacob, a Catholic layman, offered that consideration as the South Asian nation marks National Minorities Day on Thursday.

Speaking to Fides news agency, Mr. Jacob said the issue of forced conversions continues to affect the most vulnerable and poor members of religious minorities in Pakistan.

“This painful mentality goes hand in hand with extremely worrying factors such as violations of fundamental human rights, discrimination, poverty and the absence of the rule of law,” he said. “The government’s inaction on this issue encourages perpetrators to use their faith to cover up crimes against minority women.”

Justice for minorities

Mr. Jacob heads up the Center for Social Justice, and previously served as executive secretary of the Catholic Commission on Justice and Peace.

The human rights activist noted that the issue of discrimination against minorities must be brought to the attention of all Pakistanis and that the government must ensure justice.

“The problem of abuse of minority rights must be recognized and addressed through adequate legislation in order to take specific measures to protect women from religious minorities,” said Mr. Jacob.

He added that “awareness and education programs are therefore urgently needed to increase protection and awareness in the Pakistani society for the vulnerable and marginalized status of minorities in the country.”

Uptick in forced conversions

The Center for Social Justice reports that 78 young women from religious minorities were abducted and forcibly converted to Islam in 2021. These included 39 Hindu, 38 Christian, and 1 Sikh woman.

This figure represented an 80 percent increase in forced conversions compared to 2020.

Mr. Jacob pointed out that these cases are the only ones which were officially reported, and warned that many others go unreported.

Government’s resolve

In a message for Pakistan’s Minorities Day, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif assured the “unflinching resolve” of his government to protect the rights of minorities “without consideration of fear or favor.”

He also says his government has reserved a 5 percent quota of jobs for minorities in government services.

“On this occasion,” read the PM’s message, “I earnestly emphasize the distinguished role played by the minorities in all nation building efforts. I am well aware of the sacrifices rendered by them in our journey towards development and prosperity.”