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Kidnapped 12-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan was found chained in home of ‘husband.’
Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Asif Masih beamed with joy to have his 12-year-old daughter back home on Tuesday (Feb. 16) in Faisalabad, Pakistan following her alleged kidnapping and forcible conversion and marriage to a 45-year-old Muslim.
“Praise God, for He has answered our prayers and rescued my daughter,” Masih said hours after Faisalabad Session Judge Rana Masood Akhtar ordered that Farah Shaheen be released from a government shelter “because she wants to go with him.” In a Jan. 23 hearing, Farah had told the court that she wanted to live with her so-called husband, Khizar Hayat – a statement made under threats and pressure at the shelter, her lawyer said.
The court verdict states that since the marriage between Farah and Hayat was not registered and a Nikahnama (Islamic marriage contract) was not verified by the area union council, she could not be kept in the shelter indefinitely.
“She’s deeply traumatized and fearful, but my child is very happy to be back in her family,” Masih told Morning Star News. “Just when we thought that we had lost her, this miracle happened. May God keep all daughters in His protection.”
Masih, a Roman Catholic daily wage laborer, had fought for Farah’s recovery since she was allegedly kidnapped by three Muslims from the family’s home in the Ahmedabad area of Faisalabad in June. The child was allegedly raped, forcibly converted to Islam and forced to marry Hayat.
Although intercourse with a girl below age 16 is statutory rape in Pakistan, in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Nikahnama influences police and courts to pardon kidnappers.
Hayat was taken into custody and released on bail, but he has yet to be charged for alleged kidnapping or rape, and fears for Farah’s security remain.
Police found Farah chained in the suspect’s home on Dec. 5 after Masih reported she had been kidnapped on June 25, and a judge ordered her to be kept in police custody; she was then sent to a government-run shelter home while her case went to court.
Church leaders and rights activists said they fear that such shelter homes, police and courts were facilitating the forced conversions of Christian girls.
Rights activist Lala Robin Daniel told Morning Star News that Hayat and his alleged accomplices would remain a threat to Masih and his family until they are taken into custody and punished.
“All those who were involved in this case should be given exemplary punishments so that people have a fear of the law,” Daniel told Morning Star News. “Unless stern legislation is brought against forced conversions of minor girls and the accused are punished, there is little hope for safety of our children.”
Legislation on Religious Conversion
A parliamentary panel on minorities has forwarded key legislation to the government on curbing forced conversions of minority girls in Pakistan, recommending that only adults should be allowed to change religion and only after appearing before a senior district judge.
The Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions on Tuesday (Feb. 16) recommended that the Stymie Forced Religious Conversion Bill be forwarded to the Senate, which will decide whether to forward the draft to the relevant ministry.
The bill includes recommendations for validating conversion, stating, “Any person who is not a child and able and willing to convert to another religion will apply for a conversion certificate from the additional sessions judge of the area where the person ordinarily resides.”
The bill calls for an application form that would include conversion candidates’ current religion, age, gender, national identity number, reason for conversion and details of parents, siblings, children and spouse if any.
The committee suggested that the additional sessions judge shall set a date for an interview within seven days of receipt of the application for conversion.
“On the date provided, the person shall present himself/herself before the additional sessions judge who shall ensure that the conversion is not under any duress and not due to any deceit or fraudulent misrepresentation,” the bill states.
The additional sessions judge may, upon the conversion candidates’ request, arrange his/her meeting with religious scholars of the religion the person wishes to convert to, according to the draft. A clause also empowers the additional sessions judge to grant 90 days to the person to undertake a comparative study of the religions and return to the office of the judge.
“Only after satisfaction, the additional sessions judge may issue the certificate of change of religion,” the draft states.
Church leaders endorsed the recommendations in the bill but questioned the will of the government to address the issue.
“This is not the first time such practical recommendations have been proposed to the government, but unfortunately all such pro-minority legislations are either put on the back-burner or outright dismissed under pressure from religious groups,” said Pakistan National Council of Churches President Bishop Azad Marshall.
The Senate’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs recently rejected a bill seeking protection for Pakistan’s minorities against religiously motivated violence.
Committee chairman Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, of the far-right Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, claimed in a Feb. 2 meeting that minorities in Pakistan already enjoyed “unprecedented religious freedom” and that therefore there was no need for more legislation. Sen. Sirajul Haq of the hard-line Jamaat-e-Islami derided the bill as part of the agenda of Non-Governmental Organizations.
Bishop Marshall said it was unfortunate that some religious leaders have created hindrances to such crucial legislation over the years.
“Forced conversions, misuse of blasphemy law, hate speech and religious violence are real issues affecting the minority communities that need to be tackled together as a national cause,” he said.
Former parliamentarian and rights advocate Mary James Gill said the protection for minorities bill introduced by her Muslim party colleague, Sen. Javed Abbasi, was a sincere effort to curb forced conversions and other issues facing non-Muslim citizens, especially Christians and Hindus.
“It’s time that the government and opposition parties should rise beyond party lines and seriously work on these issues,” she said. “Intolerance and extremism are increasing in our country, and if we don’t stop them now, this fire will eventually devour all of us.”
Gill lauded the recommendations made in the religious conversion bill but, like Bishop Marshall, she too voiced concern over how Islamist parties and groups would react to it.
“Religious leaders need to understand that legislation for protection of minorities does not mean an attack on their faith,” she said. “Matters like forced conversion and misuse of blasphemy laws are serious human rights issues, and all of us need to take a firm stand against it.”
Pakistan led the world in forced marriages, with about 1,000 Christians married against their will to non-Christians from November 2019 to October 2020, according to Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List report. In terms of abductions, the report listed Pakistan as fourth with an estimated 100 kidnappings.
Overall, Pakistan was ranked No. 5 on the 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
According to the Center for Social Justice, 162 questionable conversions have appeared in the media since 2013. About 52 percent of allegedly forced conversions occurred in Punjab Province, and 44 percent in Sindh Province, while 1.23 percent each were reported in the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa areas. One case was reported from Balochistan Province.
The data show that 54.3 percent of the girls and women were Hindu, 44.4 percent were Christian and 0.62 percent belonged to Sikh and Kalash communities.
More than 46.3 percent of the victims of forced conversion were minors – with 32.7 percent between the ages of 11 and 15 – while only 16.7 percent of the victims were above 18 years old, though lower courts did not always verify those ages through records of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and schools.
VOP Note: Please pray for the many Christian girls who are kidnapped, forced to convert and married to their abductors. They suffer horrific abuse with physical and mental injuries.
Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Karachi, Pakistan are ignoring the kidnapping and forcible conversion to Islam of a 13-year-old Christian girl by a 45-year-old Muslim whose two brothers are police officials, sources said.
Ali Azhar, a neighbor of the victim’s Catholic family, abducted Arzoo Raja on Oct. 13, and her family went to police that same day, said her father, Raja Lal.
“When we failed to find Arzoo, we registered a kidnapping case with the local police station,” Lal said. “On Oct. 15 we were summoned to the station, where we were shown documents which claimed that Arzoo was 18 and had willingly converted to Islam after marrying Ali Azhar.”
Police have shown no interest in arresting the accused in spite of National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) records showing Arzoo’s age as 13, as she was born on July 31, 2007, he said. Sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape and carries a death sentence or a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison in Pakistan.
Ghazala Shafique, a Karachi-based Christian rights and social activist, said police were doing little in the case.
“Two brothers of the accused are police officials, and they are using their influence to protect him,” Shafique told Morning Star News. “Attorney [Noor Naz] Agha brought this to the court’s notice during the hearing on Saturday [Oct. 24] and also demanded that Ali and all other people involved in the case, including the cleric who signed the Islamic conversion and marriage certificates of the minor Christian girl, be arrested and tried for their crime.”
Agha, a prominent Muslim lawyer, has taken up the case pro bono, a great relief to the grief-stricken parents who have lost their jobs in the search for justice, Shafique said.
“We have asked the police to include the Child Marriage Restraint Act [in the case], but the police are reluctant to include it,” Shafique said. “The court should also ask the police why it has ignored the documents issued by NADRA and Arzoo’s school that clearly state her age. We are also ready for conducting medical tests to determine Arzoo’s age, so why are the police reluctant to produce her in court?”
She said she is demanding that Arzoo be presented in court and that special arrangements be made for recording her statement in a way that would preclude fear from coercion by her abductor.
Shafique said it was the second case of forced conversion of underage Christian girls in Karachi in a year. In October 2019, 14-year-old Huma Younas was kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam, she said.
“Forced conversion is often disguised as voluntary conversion and both the provincial and federal governments need to act against this persecution,” she said.
In Faisalabad, Punjab Province, 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz was kidnapped and forcibly married and converted to Islam earlier this year. After sending her to a shelter, a court in Lahore on Aug. 4 ordered her to be returned to her abductor based on forged documents, but she escaped on Aug. 22. She told Morning Star News her abductor had blackmailed her into giving false court statements that she had willingly converted and married him.
In Karachi, the accused in Arzoo’s case, Azhar, was Lal’s neighbor in the Muhalla Railway Colony West Camp Road locality.
Lal and his wife, who have three other older children, have been hard-pressed to feed them after losing their jobs and were thankful for the pro bono legal help.
“Thankfully, our pleas have been noticed by Christian rights activists and political leaders, and they are helping us in highlighting the case,” Lal told Morning Star News. “My wife and I have been running from pillar to post since [reporting the case], but the police are not showing any interest in arresting the accused and investigating the case impartially.”
Police did not respond to attempts by Morning Star News to contact them by phone and text message.
In spite of growing concern over a rise in abduction of girls from minority communities, particularly Christians and Hindus, and forcibly marrying them and converting them to Islam, successive national and provincial governments have failed to pass laws against perpetrators.
A bill against forced conversions introduced in 2016 in the Sindh Provincial Assembly remains pending after Islamists threatened violent protests.
Last week a federal government commission on minorities announced that it would draft a bill to curb forced conversions only after consultations with provincial and religious leaders. Christian political and church leaders told Morning Star News that state institutions and government parties should not succumb to pressure by Islamist parties.
“The government should bring the legislation on forced conversion to parliament without capitulating to any party that objects to its contents or underlying spirit,” said National Council of Churches in Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshall.
He said that forced conversion is not seen as a crime, much less as a problem that should concern “mainstream” Pakistan.
“But it is a very serious crime against the minority population, and the government must show some spine in addressing the matter,” he said.
Marshall added that Pakistan’s entire legal system, from police to the courts, are violating laws and facilitating such conversions especially of minor girls.
“When the parents present a certificate that the age of the girl is below 18 years, the police usually do not attach this document in the FIR [First Information Report], but we have women protection laws in the country, and we need to implement them,” he said. “Besides that, Pakistan is signatory to several international obligations, and such incidents bring a bad name to the country.”
Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that no one shall be subject to coercion to change their religion. The European Court of Human Rights has given some guidance regarding the distinction between permissible persuasion and coercion.
Amir Naveed Jeeva, a Christian lawmaker of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and a member of the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating forced conversions, said the committee is trying to build consensus on the draft bill.
“One suggestion is to introduce a new marriage rule that includes the mandatory presence of a guardian at the time of marriage and the establishment of shelters managed by the district administrations to house underage girls who want to get married, in order to clear the confusion between force and consent,” he said.
Shunila Ruth, a ruling party Christian lawmaker and parliamentary secretary on human rights, said that forced conversion needs to be addressed at the federal level.
“There is a difference of opinion on the issue at the state level, but things are gradually heading in a positive direction, and we hope that all stakeholders will succeed in formulating a solution to this issue,” she said.
According to data compiled by the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights and the Centre for Social Justice, of 156 incidents of forced conversions which took place between 2013 and 2019, a vast majority of the girls are minors, with numerous cases of girls as young as 12 years old. Muslim groups oppose a minimum age for conversion or marriage, claiming that this is not sanctioned by Islam.
Although intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape, in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Nikahnama, or Islamic marriage certificate, influences police to pardon kidnappers.
Pakistan ranked fifth on Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.
Nigeria (Morning Star News) – A church elder was shot as his daughters were kidnapped in northwest Nigeria on Friday (Sept. 18), days after a pastor and three other Christians in a north-central state were killed earlier this month.
Hassana and Hussaina Garba, teenaged Christian twin sisters, were kidnapped from their home beside their Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) worship building in Kwakware village, Kankara County in northwest Nigeria’s Katsina state, sources said. The kidnappers shot their father, ECWA elder Ibrahim Garba, in the stomach in the 10:30 p.m. assault, and sources said he was receiving hospital treatment.
Kidnappings by various criminal elements have become rampant in Katsina state the past few years, with the high number committed by predominantly Muslim Fulanis prompting Gov. Aminu Masari to warn last year that the tribe risks being targeted by vigilantes.
Kwakware area resident Charles Yahaya said kidnapping has long been a problem in Katsina state but has intensified.
“Testimonies and exhibits at the crime scene show that the kidnappers were very organized, very informed on their target and heavily armed,” Yahaya told Morning Star News by text message. “This is one incident among many. It is the sustained and targeted kidnapping of Christian girls in northern Nigeria, after which they are forcefully converted to Islam and married off, thereby becoming sex slaves. Something is going on in our country that needs to be addressed systematically and collectively by all well-meaning citizens.”
Area resident Saminu Adamu called for prayer for the rescue of the sisters.
“It’s heart-breaking and becoming unbearable; Christian twin sisters were kidnapped at their residence,” Adamu told Morning Star News by text message. “Family of Christ, please pray for their safe release in the hand of their captors.”
Yahaya said another teenaged Christian girl was kidnapped in Soba, Kaduna state, on Aug. 30 and forced to convert to Islam.
“Aliyah, a young Christian girl who was the last born of seven children and the only daughter of a widow, was kidnapped on the 30th,” he said. “On that fateful day, she went to church but never returned home.”
Her mother reported the disappearance to Soba Local Government Area police. On Sept.1 officers told her come to the station as her daughter was there, he said.
“When the mother got there, unknown to her, Aliyah had been forced to convert to Islam,” Yahaya told Morning Star News. “Aliyah completely denied knowing the mother. Nevertheless, the mother demanded release of her daughter. The DPO [Divisional Police Officer] refused to grant this request, but rather returned Aliyah to the Muslim abductors and later transferred the case to Zaria Area Command. All efforts made by the girl’s mother and members of the church to have the girl return back to her mother could not yield a positive result.”
On Sept. 7 police transferred the case to Kaduna headquarters on grounds that the kidnapping had become an interfaith conflict, he said.
“The mother, lawyers, and Christian body tried to intervene, but the police unlawfully detained her to be presented to the Interfaith Committee in Kaduna State,” Yahaya said. “As prayers intensified, the girl began crying and pleading with the police to release her to go back home. But the police insisted on her unlawful detention to achieve the wish of her abductors to Islamize the young Christian girl.”
After more prayer and the involvement of other well-meaning Nigerians, the girl was released back to her mother, he said.
“Others have not been so lucky, and many are still at risk,” Yahaya said. “Christian girls, many of whom are minors, go missing on their way to or from school or church. Something needs to be done urgently to arrest such brazen unconstitutional acts.”
Four Christians Slain
In Kaduna state, suspected Fulani herdsmen killed an ECWA pastor and three other Christians in attacks in which they kidnapped other Christians.
The Rev. Alubara Audu, a 45-year-old father of five, was killed in Buda, Kajuru County in a Sept. 6 attack at 2 a.m., according to a statement from Awemi Dio Maisamari, a Christian community leader and national president of the Adara Development Association. Also killed in the unprovoked attack were Adamu Tata, 40, a father of four children, and Ishaku Peter, a 37-year-old father of five, Maisamari said.
The assailants kidnapped Sani Peter, 25, and his wife Esther Sani Peter, 20, he said.
A fourth Christian, Danladi Abashi, was killed in a herdsmen attack on Aug. 16 in Kallah village, he said.
“Abashi, a 50-year-old old farmer, ventured near the villages that were invaded and are still occupied by Fulani herdsmen in the Kallah/Gefe/Libere area of Kajuru LGA,” Maisamari said. “His body was only recovered with the help of the police, because the herdsmen disallowed Adara people from even approaching the occupied enclave.”
In an Aug. 27 attack in Maraban Kajuru, herdsmen kidnapped Daniel Shuaibu and Abednego Paul from their home and wounded another Christian, he said.
“During the operation, Mr. Sunday Barau was shot and injured, and the abductees are still with their abductors because his helpless family has been unable to meet their demands,” Maisamari said.
Pius Gargai also was kidnapped from his home in Maraban Rido, and on Sept. 2 four people were kidnapped from Rafin Roro village in Kajuru County, he said.
“One of them managed to escape and three are still being held,” Maisamari said. “With the continuation of such hostilities by Fulani herdsmen even when various peace moves are being initiated, it is becoming clearer that the purported dialogue is serving as a diversion to enable the attackers to continue their diabolical activities. We are left wondering whether it is worthwhile engaging in such dialogue and peace talks if this continues.”
Also kidnapped in early September were five people from the Kemara Rimi community of Buda Ward, Kajuru County, he said: Ojo Aminu, 35; Danfulani Makaranta, 37; Namiji Gwamna, 36; Ali Musa, 36; and Grace Mathew, 16.
Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views, but some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief (APPG) noted in a recent report.
“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.
Fulani herdsmen have increasingly adopted ideology and methods similar to Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram, and some come from outside Nigeria, This Day’s Akin Osuntokun wrote in an Aug. 14 column for the Nigerian news outlet.
“Today, a new breed of herdsman has emerged: an aggressive and murderous terrorist bearing sophisticated firearms such as AK-47s and even rocket launchers,” Osuntokun wrote. “And they become the mobile avant-garde army of political Islam in Nigeria. Given the country’s porous borders, many of them are recent immigrants from neighboring countries. Herdsmen from Niger, Chad and Mali can walk across the border and immediately lay claim to all the sacrosanct rights appertaining to bona fide Nigerian nationals.”
Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.
The APPG report noted that tribal loyalties cannot be overlooked.
“In 2015, Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, was elected president of Nigeria,” the group reported. “He has done virtually nothing to address the behavior of his fellow tribesmen in the Middle Belt and in the south of the country.”
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution but second in the number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Pakistan.
Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A court decision in Pakistan to return custody of a 14-year-old Christian girl to the Muslim who allegedly kidnapped her and forced her to convert to Islam and marry him will make more Christian girls vulnerable to such trauma, sources said.
Lala Robin Daniel, a rights activist based in Faisalabad assisting the family of Maira Shahbaz, said the Lahore High Court’s refusal to take into account the documented age of the girl and the falsification of documents, including a fake marriage certificate, was unprecedented and would lead to more such cases.
“If the courts of this country start validating underage marriages of girls belonging to the minority communities, it will encourage people from the majority faith to target them with even more impunity,” he said. “A minor child can easily be influenced or coerced into renouncing their faith and marrying someone. This practice needs to be stopped.”
Daniel and the family’s attorney correctly refer to the girl as Maira in court documents, but the court mistakenly called her Maria in its verdict. A Catholic from Medina Town, Faisalabad, Maira contracted false marriage with the already married Muslim, Nakash Tariq, on Oct. 25, 2019 – six months before he allegedly abducted her on April 28, according to her mother, Nighat Shahbaz, a single parent and domestic worker.
According to court documents, Nighat Shahbaz said she and her family were unaware of the fake marriage until after Maira was allegedly kidnapped and appeared in Faisalabad Sessions Court on July 23. At that hearing, Maira told Judge Rana Masood Akhtar that she was over 18 years old, had converted to Islam of her free will and wanted to live with her Muslim husband.
Since the family had challenged the underage marriage, the judge sent Maira to a women’s shelter on July 28 until her age could be determined, as the 2019 Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act bars marriage of a child under the age of 18.
Khalil Tahir Sindhu, lawyer for Nighat Shahbaz and a member of the Punjab Assembly, told Morning Star News that the Lahore High Court (LHC) presided by Justice Shahid Mahmood Abbasi allowed Maira to go with Tariq without considering evidence that the girl was underage and that the marriage certificate was fake.
The cleric whose name is listed on the marriage certificate denied involvement in the sham marriage, and the document failed to show proof of consent from Tariq’s first wife, with whom he has two children, Sindhu added.
“In my arguments before the learned high court, I submitted evidence that according to NADRA [National Database and Registration Authority], Maira’s date of birth is Oct. 30, 2005, and the same is recorded in her school leaving certificate,” the attorney said.
He also argued that the investigating officer of the case, Assistant Sub-Inspector Shahid Wahla, had made no effort to verify the documentary evidence under Section 8 of the Juvenile Justice System Act 2008, which requires determination of age based on birth certificate, educational certificates, and in absence of any such documents, a physical examination by a doctor, Sindhu said.
“When we objected to the inefficient and shoddy investigation by ASI Wahla, the probe was entrusted to Deputy Superintendent of Police Rana Ataur Rehman by the Faisalabad District Standing Board, which oversees complaints against the police,” the lawyer said.
Sindhu added that cleric Muhammad Abu Bakar, under whose name and seal the fake Nikah Nama (Islamic marriage certificate) had been produced in court, had also filed a case against Tariq for presenting a fictitious document.
“It is appalling that the honorable judge ignored these key facts while writing the verdict, even though presenting fake documents in court is a criminal offense and punishable under the law,” Sindhu said, adding that his team will file an intra-court appeal against the single bench’s order and also approach the Supreme Court if it is not accepted.
Sindhu said it was likely that Maira stated she married and converted of her own will due to fear or coercion, as her family has had no contact with her since she was allegedly kidnapped.
“It’s not very difficult to threaten a minor to say what you want them to say,” he said.
Court Admits Dismissing Evidence
The high court’s verdict states that Maira’s family was denied custody because “she stated that she’s 18 years old, recited the Kalma Tayyaba to prove she had embraced Islam without any duress, and married Nakash Tariq by choice.”
“The statement of Maria [sic] Shahbaz as well as her general appearance unambiguously show that she is a grown-up young lady who seems to have attained the age of puberty and who acknowledges Nakash Tariq as her lawfully wedded husband,” the verdict states.
The verdict acknowledges that the judge dismissed evidence her family’s attorney provided that the minor could not have contracted marriage without the consent of her guardian and that the marriage certificate was fake.
“As far as proof of marriage is concerned, the other formalities can be ignored and simple acknowledgement of husband and wife regarding their Nikah [marriage] is sufficient to prove the same,” the verdict states. “In such circumstances, the mandatory requirement of presence of two witnesses can be ignored.”
Regarding authenticity of the marriage certificate, the verdict states, “Only the family court would be in a better position to resolve the controversy between the parties regarding genuineness or otherwise of ‘Nikah Nama.’”
In February the forced conversion to Islam and marriage of another 14-year-old Christian girl was validated in a court ruling in Pakistan. The High Court in Sindh Province on Feb. 3 dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of Huma Younus overturned, ruling that both were valid since a girl under sharia (Islamic law) can marry after her first menstrual cycle.
The Catholic girl was taken from her home in Karachi’s Zia Colony on Oct. 10, 2019 while her parents were away and was forced to marry the man who abducted her.
Supreme Court Advocate Saiful Malook told Morning Star News that sharia (Islamic law) allows girls who have reached puberty to marry, and that previous court judgments have endorsed this interpretation.
“Islamic law says that if a girl has attained puberty she shall be treated as a major, and a full bench of the LHC has already declared that a major Muslim girl needs no consent of the Wali or guardian for a valid marriage,” Malook said. “This judgment of the LHC was endorsed by the Supreme Court in a case reported in 2004.”
Malook said that the verdict in Maira’s case follows precedents established by the LHC and Supreme Court, particularly when a girl has repeatedly told courts that she is the legally wedded wife of the accused and desires to lives with her husband.
Malook, a Muslim who represented Aasiya Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi), in Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy case and won her freedom, said that forced conversion contradicts the Koran.
“It is clearly stated in the Koran that no person can be forced to renounce their faith and embrace Islam,” he said. “In Maira’s case, the girl has repeatedly proclaimed that she has converted to Islam without duress, hence prima facie it cannot be said that it is a case of forced conversion unless the girl retracts her statements given in court.”
Pakistan ranked fifth on then Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.
(Voice of the Persecuted) Pakistani Christian Sneha, 14, of Bahar Colony, Lahore, who was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married to her kidnapper Zeeshan, has been recovered and reunited with her family.
Sneha is the youngest daughter of Sabir Masih and has two sisters and one older brother.
She was a 9th grade student in the Franciscan Girls High School, Bahr colony Lahore but in the evening, she also attended a local academy for tuition to prepare for her final exams.
Sneha said in her statement that Zeeshan, a Muslim, used to tease her every day on her way back home from the academy and had persistently pressured her for friendship. Sneha constantly declined his request and told him that was not possible as she had to focus on her education and that they were of different religions. However, Zeeshan continued his unwelcome advances.
On the evening of January 14, 2020 while Sneha was returning home from the academy, Zeeshan tried forced her to go behind the building. But when she refused Zeeshan became violent. Sneha said that because she was alone, she was scared and he started pushing her. There was a vehicle parked in the street and he forcibly pushed her into it. Suddenly, six more young men got into the vehicle and started beating her.
They took her to an unknown place, where more men arrived and started beating and constantly raping her.
Sneha begged them to let her go home but they refused. One day they asked her to sign a few blank papers. When she refused they tortured her. Later she learned the documents included a marriage certificate and religion conversion certificate.
They threatened Sneha that if she told her family and gave their names, she would have to face severe consequences and they would do the same to her sisters.
Sneha’s father, Sabir Masih, reported her missing to police. The FIR (first information police report) was registered in Liaqatabad police station and the Session Court issued orders for the police to recover Sneha as soon as possible. After a few days, the police found Sneha on January 19, 2020 and brought her back to her parents. However, the police are favoring the Muslims kidnappers, which is a usual circumstance in Pakistan.
Nasir Saeed, Director CLAAS-UK told Voice of the Persecuted that their partners are supporting Sneha’s family and providing free legal aid to them. He relayed that they have applied to the court for Sneha’s statement and have asked for her medical tests.
Sabir Masih and his family are receiving threats from the Muslim kidnappers who are pressuring the family not to proceed further and withdraw the case against them. The family has been moved to an unknown place, Mr Saeed shared.
Cases of Christian and Hindu girls’ being kidnapping, forced into conversion and marriage to their kidnappers, in order to cover the crime, are continuing to rise. That Sneha was returned to her parents is a rare case. Most girls are forced to remain with their Muslim abductors.
Even recently the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has termed forced conversion un-Islamic. Last July Prime Minister Imran Khan had termed the practice of forced conversions as “un-Islamic” and said there was no precedent in Islamic history for forcefully converting others. Christian and Hindu MPs like Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani and Naveed Amir Jeeva have raised this matter in the Parliament several times but there has been no further progress.
Mr Saeed said: “CLAAS and several other organisations have been reporting such cases regularly for the last several years in the national and international media. Unfortunately the Pakistani government has failed to take action to stop the forced conversion of under age Christian, Hindu and other minority girls.
He called on the international community and human rights organisations to play their role to end ongoing forced conversion in Pakistan.
Please pray for the protection of minority girls in Pakistan and healing for victims of such heinous crimes.
Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A high court ruling in Pakistan validating the marriage and forced conversion to Islam of a 14-year-old Christian girl has heightened fears that it will encourage others to commit such crimes, sources said.
The High Court in Sindh Province on Feb. 3 dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of a Catholic girl overturned, ruling that both were valid since a girl under sharia (Islamic law) can marry after her first menstrual cycle.
Huma Younus was taken from her home in Karachi’s Zia Colony on Oct. 10 while her parents were away and was forced to marry the man who abducted her, identified as Abdul Jabbar of Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab Province, her attorney said.
“The hearing on Feb. 3 lasted only five minutes,” the family’s attorney, Tabassum Yousaf, told Morning Star News. “The court, in just a few words citing the sharia, has justified the violation of the girl’s body since she has already had her first period.”
Yousaf added that the family was prohibited from seeing Huma because police said her life would be at risk if she was brought to the courtroom.
He said the family challenged Huma’s marriage and forced conversion under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which declares marrying a person under 18 years old an offense punishable by up to three years in prison.
Although the Sindh government takes credit for becoming Pakistan’s first elected assembly to pass a bill on child marriage in April 2014, the law is still poorly implemented, sources said.
Yousaf said he submitted Huma’s baptismal and school documents in court that proved she was 14 years old, but nevertheless Sindh High Court judges Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah ruled that the marriage was valid based on her menstrual cycle.
The legal battle has been going on for months with constant delays and excuses cited so as not to present the underage girl in court, sources said.
The family has filed an appeal to the Court of Justice in Sindh Province, and Yousaf said a hearing is scheduled for March 4. Police will thus have more time for medical tests to determine Huma’s age, he said.
Guardian Consent Needed
The girl’s parents were informed via text message that Huma had converted to Islam and had married Jabbar “of her free will,” sources said.
Since forced conversions are not illegal in Pakistan, her attorney said he believed the case hinged on Huma’s age.
Prominent Supreme Court Advocate Saiful Malook told Morning Star News that even though sharia allows marriage of a minor girl if she has her first period, the marriage has to be validated by the girl’s guardian.
“In no way can any court of law endorse an underage marriage unless it is supported by the girl’s guardian,” Malook said. “Marriage is governed by the Contract Act, wherein no minor can enter into a contract or agreement without the explicit approval of her guardian. In this particular case, the court must take into account whether the girl’s legal guardian has consented to her marriage even if it’s judging the act under the sharia.”
He added that a 14-year-old minor cannot be deemed mature enough to change her religion by her own will, considering the fact that she could have been coerced or blackmailed into renouncing her faith. Huma reportedly filed an affidavit declaring that she married of her own free will, but Yousaf has said that such an affidavit can’t be filed legally until she obtains an identity card at age 18.
The high court must order Huma to record a statement in the courtroom, Malook said.
“If the police are not producing the girl before the court on various pretenses, the court should be wise enough to see through the police’s mala fide and hand the custody of the minor back to her parents,” he said.
Malook, who represented Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy convict, Aasiya Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi, before the Supreme Court and won her freedom, said that abducting for the purpose of forced conversion and underage marriage is a major problem in Pakistan. He added that legislation effective in curbing the practice is long overdue.
Christian rights activists believe that the ruling of the Sindh High Court will encourage more perpetrators of such crimes to hide behind sharia. Pakistan Center of Law of Justice Executive Director Napoleon Qayyum told Morning Star News that the high court’s ruling would result in a surge in cases of forced conversion and underage marriages of Christian girls.
“Another Christian girl aged 14 was recently abducted and gang-raped by some Muslim youths in Bihar Colony area of Lahore,” Qayyum said. “The victim is a student of grade nine and was abducted by four or five boys on her way to a local tuition center on Jan. 16, 2020. The abductors not only raped her but also obtained her signatures and thumb impressions on some papers.”
Police were able to recover her on Jan. 19, but Qayyum said he fears the suspects will use her signed documents to produce a fake marriage certificate and religion conversion letter in a bid to escape abduction and rape charges.
“This is common modus operandi of Muslims to confuse the court and avoid justice,” he said.
In nearly all such cases, he said, the rapists threaten to harm the girls’ families if they reveal the truth.
“Moreover, the girls are also forced to give false statements in court that they have changed their religion of free will and had married of their own choice,” Qayyum said. “Girls belonging to minority communities often succumb to pressure and consideration for their family’s security, which has further emboldened the men belonging to the majority faith.”
Most victims of forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan are reportedly Christian and Hindu girls and women forced to marry Muslim men who are much older than them. According to the Centre for Social Justice, at least 159 such cases were reported between 2013 and 2019.
The Sindh legislature in 2016 passed a law outlawing forcible conversions and conversions before the age of 18 but, under pressure from Islamic extremist groups, the governor declined to sign it. Each year about 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam and then married off to their abductors or rapists, according to the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Pakistan Hindu Council.
Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.
Photo: Huma Younas, 14, was abducted and forced to convert to Islam, her parents say. (Morning Star News courtesy of family)
Not only the 219 Chibok girls but thousands of North Nigerian girls have been kidnapped, mentally tortured. raped, forcibly married and converted to Islam. Try to imagine their mental state and what it takes to heal. Please pray for those still in captivity and for others who are trying to learn how to live in society again. Much love to these precious little sisters. God bless you more and more.
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As the operation to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS ramps up, anti-ISIS forces are detailing some of the atrocities committed by the terrorist group.
An official for the Kurdistan Democratic Party told Iranian news agency ABNA ISIS has been forcing women into arranged marriages with ISIS fighters — and executing women who refuse. The official said “at least 250 girls have so far been executed … and sometimes the families of the girls were also executed.”
Mosul fell to ISIS in the summer of 2014. Since then, the group has been taking pains to portray their occupation of the city as benevolent. But ISIS’ reign has been particularly oppressive to women; the group practices sex slavery and requires women to adhere to a strict set of rules.
The push to retake Mosul began last month, and President Obama says he expects the city to be ripe for the retaking by the end of the year.
This video includes clips from Rudaw and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.