Pakistan is a country that is home to a diverse population with various religious and ethnic backgrounds. However, its religious minorities often face discrimination and persecution, as evidenced by the latest fact sheet released by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) in its Human Rights Observer 2023 report.
The report sheds light on the state of religious minorities in Pakistan and highlights five key issues impacting their lives, including forced faith conversions, misuse of blasphemy laws, discrimination in the education system, delay in the establishment of the National Commission for Minorities, and lack of jail remissions for minority prisoners.
FORCED FAITH CONVERSIONS
Forced faith conversions continue to be a major issue for religious minorities in Pakistan, with at least 124 incidents reported in 2022.
The victims of these conversions comprised 81 Hindus, 42 Christians, and one Sikh. Shockingly, 23 percent of girls were below 14 years of age, and 36 percent of them were between the age of 14 and 18 years. Only 12 percent of the victims were adults, while the age of 28 percent of the victims was not reported.
Sixty-five percent of these cases were reported in Sindh in 2022, followed by 33 percent in Punjab, and 0.8 percent each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
MISUSE OF BLASPHEMY LAWS
Misuse of blasphemy laws is another major issue that religious minorities face in Pakistan.
As per the report, as many as 171 people were accused under these laws in 2022. The highest occurrence was observed in the districts of Karachi, followed by Chiniot, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Dera Ghazi Khan, Nankana Sahib, Lahore, and Sheikhupura.
According to the report, 88 of the accused were Muslims, followed by 75 Ahmadis, four Christians, and two Hindus, while the religious identity of the two accused could not be ascertained.
Four accused were extra-judicially killed, which brings the number of extra-judicial killings to 88 persons in total during the period from 1987 to 2022. At least 2,120 individuals had been accused of committing blasphemy between 1987 and 2022.
The trend witnessed an increase in the aggregate abuse of blasphemy laws in Punjab in the past 36 years, above 75 percent. However, 52 percent of the accused belonged to minorities despite their small ratio (3.52%) in the population of Pakistan.
DISCRIMINATION IN EDUCATION
Discrimination in the education system is also prevalent in Pakistan, with the religious content against minorities increasing in curriculum and textbooks during the year 2022.
The fact sheet revealed that a number of perennial and new challenges emerged in the education system, further aggravating the situation.
The establishment of the statutory National Commission for Minorities (NCM) remained pending in 2022, and a weak and lopsided draft has now been presented in the parliament in March 2023, which may further delay the establishment of the NCM.
The NCM’s establishment would provide much-needed support and protection to religious minorities in Pakistan, which currently lacks institutional mechanisms to safeguard their rights.
Lastly, the fact sheet stated that no progress was made regarding providing remission to minority prisoners during 2022, despite the fact that this concession had been available for Muslim prisoners since 1978. This failure to extend the same privileges to minority prisoners is a clear violation of their rights and adds to their suffering.
Peter Jacob, the editor of the human rights observer and executive director at the CSJ, said the annual fact sheet carried recommendations to address the issues along with practical steps for the realisation and protection of the rights of minorities, and urged the government to take stock of these issues and enforce the human rights of minorities.