ASIA/PAKISTAN - Forced Conversions result of Poverty and Ignorance

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) – Poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and social injustice are the principal causes of the phenomenon of “forced conversions” which is afflicting Pakistan. New regulations are needed to counteract it. This is what emerged yesterday from a seminar organized in Islamabad by the Federal Ministry for Harmony entitled “To put a halt to the forced conversions of religion” As Agenzia Fides foresaw (see Fides 12/4/2012) the federal government decided to give special attention to the old question concerning the conversion to Islam of about 1.000 Christian and Hindu girls yearly and reported by statements and accusations by civil society and the Church. As a note sent to Fides stated, the aim of the seminar was to concentrate on the problem of the religious conversions under constraint, under threats or for the gaining of material goods. Intellectuals, philosophers and people of different opinions from the religious community of Pakistan took part in the seminar. There were also experts from the Ministry for Justice, Ministry for Religious Affairs, Ministry for Human Rights, representatives of non-governmental organizations, members of the National Commission for the Status of Women and the Council of Islamic Ideology.
Paul Bhatti, special advisor of the Prime Minister for Harmony with the rank of Federal Minister, underlined, that in order to put a stop to the phenomenon of forced conversions, it is necessary to fight poverty, ignorance, social justice and inequality, of which religious minorities are, above all, the victims. Bhatti exhorted those in authority who are interested in revising the existing rules on forced conversions, “If the minorities feel insecure with the present norms, the legal experts can guide us in elaborating new rules, in agreement with the competent authorities” he said, considering it indispensible to promote the economic and social development of the rural masses. For this purpose, minister Bhatti assured his efforts to set in motion economic activities, thanks to small funds to minority groups. Another key element, he added, is education. Bhattti proposed creating polifunctional technical Institutes in rural areas with a special quota of enrolments reserved for the minority community.
Bhatti then advised them to include “respect for all religions” in the formative curricula of the Pakistani schools in order, ”to teach our children that all religions preach peace and harmony and that faith does not teach hate and coercion” He then announced his plan to establish a big, ”University for Arts and Religion” in Islamabad in memory of his brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated, where the values of tolerance and harmony would be taught. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 16/5/2012.

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