National Assembly Addresses Long-Pending Minorities’ Agenda

  • Lawmakers lose opportunity to oversee Executive’s performance
  • Joint Sitting of Parliament adopts resolution on Kashmir, passes anti-honour killing and anti-rape bills

ISLAMABAD, October 07, 2016: The National Assembly addressed two long-standing issues of minorities during its 36th session. It legislated for the registration of marriages between persons of Hindu community and recommended the government to take action against forced conversions and marriages of minorities. The Hindu community had long been demanding a law for solemnization of their marriages. The incidents of forced conversion have also been surfaced from time to time.

Despite important legislation, the right of the lawmakers to raise public issues and oversee the government’s performance was compromised due to their not utilizing certain parliamentary tools such as Adjournment Motions, Motions under Rule 259 and Questions. The Motion of Thanks to the President remained on agenda throughout the session. The Motions under Rule 259 were not taken up consecutively for the third session. The treasury sought suspension of the Question Hour twice during the session. Only a third of Starred Questions were taken up on the floor of the House.

The session began according to the Annual Calendar but continued for longer period than was scheduled. It was interrupted by the Joint Session of the Parliament that adopted a resolution on Kashmir. The Indian aggression in Occupied Kashmir as well as along the Line of Control was a recurring topic in the discussions held during the proceedings of Joint Sitting. The Prime Minister did not show up in the National Assembly but graced the Joint Sitting once to brief the parliamentarians on Kashmir issue and initiatives taken by the government in this regard.

The House also passed legislation on Benami transactions, appointment of companies’ legal advisors and judiciary-related matters. The Joint Sitting also passed the anti-honour killing and anti-rape bills pending since long.  The House took up a number of human rights issues on various agenda items.

Human Rights Issue

The issue of forced conversion of minorities surfaced in the National Assembly on several occasions during the reporting session. The Hindu lawmakers belonging to PTI and MQM submitted legislative proposal and resolution on this matter. The Protection of Minorities Bill, 2016, moved by MQM, proposes to define minimum age for conversion of religion as well as provides for strict punishments for forcefully converting or marrying a person against his or her will. On the motion of PTI lawmaker, the House adopted a resolution urging the government to take immediate steps to stop forced conversions and marriages of women belonging to Minorities. The same lawmaker also submitted question inquiring from the Ministry of Religious Affairs whether any legislation was under consideration regarding forced conversions. The ministry stated in its response that a Private Member’s Bill has been introduced in the National Assembly and was pending for review in the ministry.

Besides this question, five other questions relating to human rights were also asked during the course of the session. Two of these were addressed to the Ministry of Interior and Narcotics Control to seek information on misuse of blasphemy laws and number of refugees in the country. Both these questions remained unaddressed. The Ministry of Human Rights was quizzed about awareness campaigns on rights of women and children, steps taken to prevent rape and honour-killings and appointment of Chairperson in National Commission on Status of Women. The ministry informed the House about the Action Plan for Human Rights and other initiatives of the government to promote human rights. On question of appointment in the National Commission on Status of Women, the ministry replied that appointment procedure was underway and the summary for appointment of the Chairperson had been submitted to the Prime Minister for consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.

The House also passed the Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 while lawmakers also submitted legislative proposals for setting up Pakistan Minorities Rights Commission and ensuring the provision of right to fair trial to every accused. The human rights violations by Indian forces in Occupied Kashmir also came under discussion on Calling Attention Notice, resolution and during Joint Sitting of the Parliament.

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