The Imran Khan-led Pakistan government has opposed the idea of imposing strict restrictions against converting people less than 18 years of age, claiming that if someone aged 14 years intends to convert to some other religion, they could “not be stopped”, reports Dawn.
According to the reports, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs – Noorul Haq Qadri, has rejected the proposition to impose strict rules against converting religion before the age of 18 years.
During a meeting of the Senate parliamentary committee on minorities’ rights on Wednesday, Noorul Haq Qadri said the government does not support a restriction on religious conversion before 18 years of age. Qadri, who is also a member of the committee, said that there were several incidents when someone expressed their wish to convert their religion out of their own choice before the age of 18.
“There are several examples in Islam of religious conversion before 18. If someone wished to change their religion before reaching the age of 18, it was their choice, Qadri said, adding that the matter of child marriages was “another issue”.
The Minister for Religious Affairs said that the matter related to setting the minimum age limit for marriage has been forwarded to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). Qadri said that they would carry out investigations if someone was “forcefully converting others in Sindh”.
In the meeting, Minister Qadri also said Mian Abdul Haq, commonly known as Mian Mithoo, who is notoriously known for the forceful abductions and conversions of Hindu girls in rural Sindh, should be summoned to appear before the committee and said that what he was doing was “damaging Islam and Pakistan”.
Mian Abdul Haq, the chief of the Bharchundi mosque who is commonly known as Mian Mithoo, is accused of systematically carrying out the kidnapping and forced conversions of underage Hindu girls in the area. Mian Mithoo belongs to an influential family in the Sindh province and is an influential political and religious figure in Ghotki, Sindh.
The minority Hindus of the area claim that Mithoo protects those who kidnap underage Hindu girls and forcibly converts them to Islam before marrying them off to their kidnappers. Further, he also wields his political power to influence legal processes in case the families of kidnapped girls decide to go to court.
Mian Mithoo and the rampant kidnapping, forced conversion and marriage of underage Hindu girls
Mian Mithoo is accused of kidnapping and forcing religious conversions of several Hindu teenage girls in Pakistan. In May 2020, a young Hindu girl named Kavita Kumari was abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. Mian Mithoo, the extremist Muslim cleric and an influential politician that Hindu families dread in Sindh, was believed to be behind the incident.
This is, however, not the first incident where the ‘Mithoo mafia’, as the Mian Mithoo’s goons are commonly referred to, has been instrumental in carrying out abductions and forced conversions of several Hindu underage girls in the area. Prior to this, he was accused of abductions, and forceful conversions of one Hindu named Mahek Keswani and two other underage Hindu girls Raveena (13) and Reena (15) – who were abducted from the Ghotki in Pakistan’s Sindh on the eve of Holi. The girls were later forcefully converted and married off to older Muslim men.
Similarly, Rinkle Kumari was abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim man named Naveed Shah under his supervision. Rinkle Kumari, the daughter of a local school teacher Nand Laal, was a mere teenager at the time of her abduction. Nand Laal had allegedly fled to Lahore soon after accusing Mian Mithoo of the abduction and forced conversion.
The government and police of the region is often accused of turning mute spectators, even enablers of such crimes.
Pakistan is notoriously known for its persecution of not only religious minorities but also ethnic minorities within their own country. The forceful conversion programmes have often been unleashed against the minorities, especially Christians, Sikhs and Hindus living in Pakistan, with utmost brutality.