Pakistani Christian Teen Flees into Hiding After Court Returns Her to Custody of Abductor
14-Year-Old Victim and Family Risk Dangerous Threats for Freedom
08/27/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) learned that Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian girl who was abducted and forcefully married to a Muslim man, has escaped her abductor’s custody and fled into hiding with her mother and three siblings in Faisalabad, Pakistan. This comes only weeks after the Lahore High Court ruled that Shahbaz was legally married to her abductor and ordered her to be returned to his custody.
On April 28, 2020, Shahbaz was abducted at gunpoint by Mohamad Nakash and two accomplices while walking home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad. According to witnesses, the abductors forced Shahbaz into a car and fired gunshots into the air as they fled the scene.
Aid to the Church in Need reports that Shahbaz told police she was drugged, raped, and forced to sign blank papers that were later used by Nakash as a marriage certificate and a conversion certificate. Shahbaz also claimed that Nakash filmed her being raped and threatened to release the video online if she resisted.
After the abduction, Shahbaz remained in Nakash’s custody. To justify his custody of Shahbaz, Nakash claims that he and Shahbaz are married and that she has converted to Islam. To support this claim, Nakash produced a marriage certificate stating that Shahbaz is 19 years old. However, the validity of this certificate has been brought into question as the Muslim cleric whose name is listed on the certificate has denied any involvement in the marriage.
Shahbaz’s parents challenged the marriage’s validity in an attempt to have their daughter returned to their custody. As evidence, Shahbaz’s parents presented their daughter’s birth certificate to the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court. This document, supported by other school documents, proves that Shahbaz is a minor, rendering the marriage to Nakash illegal under the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
On July 30, Judge Rana Masood of the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court ordered that Shahbaz be allowed to leave Nakash’s custody and placed in a women’s shelter, known as Dar ul Aman, until the Lahore High Court heard her case. Following this order, police also registered a formal complaint against Nakash and his two accomplices for Shahbaz’s abduction.
On August 4, the ruling of the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court was overturned by Judge Raja Muhammad Shahid Abbasi of the Lahore High Court. Judge Abbasi reportedly ruled in favor of Nakash because the court found that Shahbaz had converted to Islam. Witnesses in the court claim that Shahbaz was in tears when the ruling was announced.
“This case has highlighted the wicked tactics used to force victims to make statements in favor of their abductors before the courts in Pakistan,” Suneel Malik, a human rights defender in Pakistan, told ICC. “Victims are threatened with dire consequences if they speak the truth in court.”
“Authorities must bring these perpetrators to justice without any further delay,” Suneel Malik continued. “The government must also enact and enforce a law that protects minority women from forced conversions and forced marriages.”
According to a 2014 study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian communities are abducted, forcefully married to their captors, and forcibly converted to Islam every year. The issue of religion is often injected into cases of sexual assault to place victims from religious minority communities at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know that they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, said, “We here at International Christian Concern remain deeply concerned for Maira’s safety and the safety of her family. The threats that Maira’s abductor has issued against Maira and her family are very real and must be taken seriously. We are also deeply disappointed by the High Court’s decision to return Maira to the custody of her abductor. This has placed Maira’s safety at risk and is likely why she and her family have gone into hiding. Pakistan must do more to combat the issue of abductions, forced marriages, and forced conversions to Islam. For too long perpetrators have used the issue of religion to justify their crimes against Pakistan’s religious minorities.”