Christian persecution takes many forms in Pakistan, a country considered one of the toughest places for Christians to live on earth. One particular disturbing form of persecution faced by Christians in Pakistan is the abduction of young Christian girls who are forcefully converted to Islam and often married to older Muslim men. The fact described in the case below are unfortunately typical in cases of forced marriage and conversion in Pakistan. With little recourse for the Christian family and a society that is hostile towards the return of the child to her original family, Christians are faced with one option, to flee Pakistan.
1/14/2014 Pakistan (Pakistan Gender News) – A Christian family in Rawalpindi had many plans for a cheerful Christmas last year until their 14-year old daughter went missing, allegedly forcibly converted to Islam and married to a Muslim boy of her school, court documents obtained by The News and background meetings with the aggrieved family reveal.
This is not the first time that such an incident has taken place in the country. However, in this case, the boy who allegedly abducted the minor Christian girl is in jail in a case of abduction.
Details reveal that one Christian girl (name withheld here) daughter of Mr Bhatti, student of O-levels went missing from her school on December 2, 2013. On that day her father was in China for a business tour. When her mother started the search, she came to know that her daughter had left for home with one Abdullah Shafi son of Arif Shafi student of A-levels.
Abdullah Shafi’s mother also came to the school in search of her son. The Christian girl’s mother was later told by the family of Abdullah Shafi that the girl was with their son and both have married after the girl’s conversion to Islam.
The mother was threatened of dire consequences if any mess was tried to be created upon the issue. She was assured by the boy’s family that her daughter would return soon. The poor mother was so scared that she did not tell anyone but waited for her husband to return.
The girl’s father returned from China on 5th December and lodged a complaint with the police regarding his missing daughter and that Abdullah Shafi had kidnapped his daughter who is a minor. The police lodged an FIR 225 on 8th December under section 365-B of Pakistan Penal Code which deals with abduction.
When the police was pressed by the girl’s family, all of a sudden the girl was produced before a magistrate on Dec 13 with almost fifty people, all equipped with weapons, outside the court who turned up to support the boy’s family, the lawyers present at the spot told this correspondent.
The 14 year old Christian girl’s statement was recorded before the magistrate under section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code in which the girl confessed to have converted to Islam. She also admitted that she had contracted marriage with Abdullah Shafi.
The moment the girl came out of the court on Dec 13, she met her family and disclosed that she had been threatened to give a statement in Abdullah’s favour; otherwise, she and her family would have been in trouble. The same was conveyed to the police and the girl was sent to the women police station, for a re-appearance before the same magistrate for recording her statement again.
The girl was produced before the magistrate again on Dec 17 and her statement was recorded again under section 164 of CrPC in which she said that she had never converted to Islam and never contracted marriage with Abdullah Shafi. She told the court that she was told by Abdullah Shafi that her mother was not well, therefore, he would drop her but later abducted her. The minor girl was allowed to go with her family that day by the court. Since then, the Christian family is living in a state of immense fear. All the four children of Bhatti have not gone to school since Dec 2. The family is planning to leave their beloved homeland as they fear that they might be attacked anytime.
Senior lawyer of Supreme Court of Pakistan, Illyas Siddiqui, who represents the Christian girl in the courts while talking to The News said that according to the Women Protection Act, the minimum age of a girl to take decisions at her own is 18; otherwise; she would be dealt by guardians.
Siddiqui said that the said Christian girl was only 14 year old and the moment she was taken away from the school by Abdullah Shafi, it was an offence of abduction.
He maintained that the magistrate was under pressure to record a minor’s statement that too in favour of the boy. He added that the moment the girl came out of the court, she disclosed to her family members that she was threatened of dire consequences if she had spoken the truth.
Illyas Siddiqui says that it is a case of forcible conversion to Islam, which is not an offense as it requires legislation. He said that the boy, Abdullah Shafi, is in jail because the law has taken its course and that taking a minor away from a guardian is an act of abduction.
Regarding difference in statements of the Christian girl, Siddiqui held that such things do not make the case weak because a minor cannot either given consent nor can contract marriage nor can convert to other religion and in this particular case, everything was done under coercion. The lawyer stated that all the documents presented in the court were created.