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Children of Forced Marriage Still Missing

Muslim father stole them nearly two years ago; Christian mother remarries – and prays.

Compass (07/20/06) – A Pakistani Christian kidnapped and sold into marriage continues to pray for the return of her missing children, even as she chooses to begin a second family.

Almost two years after her children were kidnapped by their Muslim father, Maria Samar John has not given up hope of recovering Joshua and Miriam, now 7 and 5 years old. But neither has she given up on starting a new life.

In March, John married an employee at the women’s shelter where she has been living since she escaped from a forced marriage five-and-a-half years ago. Wedding Basharat Masih and continuing to learn stitching and needlework have kept her happy, John told Compass.

“I am happy, but the wound that I have because of my children, that can never be completely filled until they come back,” John said.

Employees at the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) shelter where Maria resides told Compass that they had encouraged the marriage.

“In the end, we have to help [these women] out of their trauma,” one CLAAS staff member said. “You have to start a new life, with a new partner who understands you, who knows the things you have been through.”

Now 26, John was kidnapped by a Muslim in-law and sold as a bride when she was only 17. Her husband, Abdul Gaffar, and his seven sisters tried to force John to say her Muslim prayers and read the Quran. John refused, preferring instead to take their beatings.

Pregnant with Miriam, John eventually escaped with Joshua in 2000 and won a divorce with the help of CLAAS lawyers.

Gaffar kidnapped the children in September 2004, stealing them from court care during the trial for their custody. (See Compass Direct, “Pakistani Children Kidnapped by Muslim Father,” September 16, 2004.) A warrant was issued for Gaffar’s arrest, but 21 months later the whereabouts of the children and their father remain unknown.

“They are still at large,” one CLAAS lawyer told Compass. “The police are not making any effort to find them, because they don’t want them to be brought up in a Christian atmosphere. They want them to be brought up with their father in a Muslim atmosphere.”

Militant Connections

Gaffar’s connections with banned militant Islamic group Sipah-e-Sahaba had also aroused fears that the court could be pressured into granting him custody of the children. One Christian lawyer, fearful when he discovered Gaffar’s ties, had refused to take John’s case.

Knowing her children might someday live with their Muslim father, John said she was at first afraid to teach them about Christianity. “In the early days, I had a feeling in my heart that I would have to raise my son as a Muslim because I would [eventually] have to send him back [to his father],” John said.

Faith to raise her children as Christians grew gradually. Only days before her children were kidnapped in 2004, John had told Compass, “At [the shelter], day by day, I gained the strength to believe that the kids could be brought up as Christians, in our own faith.”

Now it seems there is little hope that John will ever again be able to teach her children about her faith.

“I don’t think there is much hope [of regaining the children],” a CLAAS lawyer told Compass. “There has been no progress in this case, so in the future I don’t think there will be any.”

Now beginning a new family, John said she has learned to trust God with the fate of her children.

“Only if God allows it will they stay away, but do please keep praying.”