Compass – One year ago yesterday, Pakistani Christian Maria Samar John experienced the second traumatic kidnapping of her life.
Her then 5-year-old son Joshua and 3-old-daughter Miriam were snatched from a Lahore court by their Muslim father, Abdul Ghaffar. The same man, after Muslims had kidnapped John, had bought her from her uncle for the equivalent of $2,000 when she was only 17, then forcibly married her and converted her to Islam. (See Compass Direct, Pakistani Children Kidnapped by Muslim Father, September 16, 2004.)
No new clues have emerged as to the childrens whereabouts since Lahore Judge Khizer Hayat Ghondal issued a warrant for Ghaffars arrest on October 2 of last year.
I miss them a lot and I have been weeping for them, John told Compass as she described the past year without Joshua and Miriam. The other night I remembered how they were with me making mischief, how they [were] laughing. That saddened me, and I pray to God for their safety and safe return.
Johns lawyer, Tahir Gul of the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) in Lahore , is confident that if Ghaffar is arrested, he will fail to gain custody of the children and be brought to justice in court.
In Pakistan , judges are normally very prejudiced against Christians, and a Muslim will almost always win a court case against a Christian, Gul told Compass. But in this situation, he said, the court itself is the plaintiff because the children were abducted while in court custody. So it is not likely that Ghaffar will win, he said.
But finding Ghaffar is proving difficult, and so far station house officer Ijaz Kumboh has failed to arrest the kidnapper. Ghaffar and his family have simply disappeared, Gul said. There are no clues [as to their location] at the moment.
This is not the first time that John has been up against great odds. After escaping from Ghaffars home five years ago, she had difficulty finding a lawyer to take her case because of her husbands ties to the powerful Sipah-e-Sabah Party in his hometown of Gujranwala , some 40 miles from Lahore . Even her own father and brothers turned her out after Ghaffar threatened to take revenge on them for helping her.
In December 2000, CLAAS agreed to help John sue for divorce and provided her lodging in a shelter for abused women.
A landmark February 2003 court ruling cited forced conversion and marriage as grounds for dissolving Johns marriage.
But in reaction, Ghaffar filed a case to regain custody of his children, claiming that his officially Muslim children — whom he had named Ali Hassan and Fatma — should not be raised by a Christian.
Although this case was underway when Ghaffar kidnapped Joshua and Miriam from the courts custody on September 13, 2004, it has now been withdrawn by Ghaffars lawyers.
Johns greatest fear is that Joshua and Miriam may forget about Jesus. She remembers how Ghaffar and his mother beat her for refusing to memorize the Quran and say Muslim prayers during the two and a half years she spent locked in their home.
I taught them about Jesus and about Christianity, said John, who is improving her sewing skills in hopes that she can support her children once they return. I believe that whatever I taught them, they will remember it and will not learn what Ghaffar wants them to learn.
A year after her childrens disappearance, John believes it will take a miracle to get them back. I am sure that every mother knows how it feels when her child is taken away from her. I want mothers to have special prayers for the safe return of my children. Please pray that a mother should have her children back.