Updated Friday Sep 23 2022
A law that ensures fundamental rights for Pakistan’s transgender citizens has stirred up controversy, as religious groups argue that it legalises same-sex marriages and homosexuality in the country.
The claim is false.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed by Pakistan’s parliament in 2018. The law prohibits discrimination against transgender people in schools, workplaces and public spaces, as well as ensures their right to vote, inherit property and run for public office.
This year, politicians from religious political parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan (Fazl) kicked up a row, insisting that the law is against Islamic tenets and should be immediately amended.
Separately, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has submitted a resolution in the Sindh Assembly against the implementation of the law. While the Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing has held several study circles in colleges against the law, calling it a “dagger in the Islamic republic.”
On September 16, two hashtags also began trending on social media #Ammendtransgenderact and #Amendtransgenderact. Both hashtags have to date accumulated over 5,000 tweets and videos with several thousand views.
Social media users and conservative politicians accuse the law of permitting gender-reassignment surgeries, same-sex marriages and cross-dressing. They also claim that since 2018, when the law was passed, over 23,000 people changed their genders.
The claim that the law will allow men to change their gender to female and women to male on official documents is incorrect.
The law clearly defines a “transgender person” as one who is “intersex” with a mixture of male and female genital features or a eunuch assigned the male gender at birth but undergoes castration or a trans person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
The Rules to the Act further clarify that a transgender person will have to approach the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) for a change of name or gender on identity documents, as per their self-perceived identity. And NADRA will only alter their gender from Female to the category “X” or Male to the category “X”.
“X” symbolises the third sex in Pakistan, a classification specially created for the trans community on the orders of the Supreme Court in 2009.
The law or the Rules do not allow men to change their gender to female or vice versa on their CNICs, passports or other travel documents.
The claim that the law permits same-sex marriages and gender-change surgeries is false.
There is no mention in the Act or the Rules of marriage or gender-affirming surgeries.
Several social media users further argue that since 2018, 23,000 people have changed their genders, as per their wishes. Geo Fact Check could find no data or evidence to support this claim.
In fact, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, who has been vocally opposing the law and insisting that it be amended, had asked the interior ministry in November 2021 for the total number of applications received by NADRA, for the issuance of gender-change certificates between July 2018 and June 2021.
To which, then interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed clarified that NADRA does not issue gender change certificates. “However, gender is modified [on official documents] due to medical reasons or on request of Transgender persons,” he added, as per documents seen by Geo Fact Check.
He further provided a breakdown of 28, 723 trans people whose gender had been changed by NADRA in the dates specified above.
Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly identified the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act as a bill. It is a law passed in 2018.
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Banner photo: Pakistanis march at a rally for World Aids Day in 2013.— AFP