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By Matias Perttula

10/15/2020 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – It has been a year since Huma Younus was kidnapped, forcefully converted, and coerced into a sham marriage with her abductor and rapist, Abdul Jabbar. The case garnered international outcry on Huma’s behalf and has since captured the attention of many around the world. Huma’s parents have pursued legal action against the kidnapper, but unfortunately the case has moved slowly through a system that eventually led to a judgement validating the sham marriage and conversion.

Huma was 14 years of age at the time of the kidnapping. She is now 15.

The judge’s ruling was a direct violation of the established law of Sindh Province under the Sindh Child Marriage Protection Act, which sets the age of marital consent at 18. Though this is a clearly established statute, the courts found in favor of Jabbar on the basis of sharia law, claiming that, since Huma had begun her menstrual cycles, she was fit for marriage.

Jabbar’s sham marriage to Huma rests on the validity of Huma’s conversion, which was heavily disputed as a forced and fabricated event. Huma was raised as a Christian and actively practiced her faith. She had no intention of converting until she was kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to do so. She does not adhere to the precepts of Islam and has every right to practice her Christian faith under the provisions provided by the Constitution of Pakistan.

The fact that the courts accepted the falsified documents of her age, marriage, and conversion is appalling. Huma’s parents have provided ample documentation proving that Jabbar’s case is completely illegitimate.

While most of the Pakistani justice system continues to rule against Huma, a point of hope came about at the beginning of September 2020 during a hearing where Justice Ms. Nusrat Sikandar, third Judicial Magistrate in the city court of East Karachi, issued a non-bailable warrant for the arrest of Abdul Jabbar. As of yet, though, police have not yet executed the warrant.

While this is a significant development in the case, the prevailing question on peoples’ minds is how will this impact the case.

The simple answer? It’s complicated, and here’s why.

While so much of the case is simple and should be easily solved, there are several factors at play that complicate the process. One of these factors is the significance of one’s religious identity in Pakistan and how that plays to the general position of religious minorities in Pakistan’s civil society. Due to a generally weak rule of law, the injection of religion to cases like this automatically escalate the situation.

It might be difficult for a western audience to understand the role of one’s faith in civic life, but in countries like Pakistan it’s one of the defining factors of daily life. A comparison that is often made is to that of Jim Crow south in the U.S. where African Americans faced severe discrimination, persecution and rampant murder. Tragically, perpetrators of these crimes experienced broad immunity for their wrongdoing. Religious minorities in Pakistan face similar circumstances. The majority Muslim community enjoys almost universally preferential treatment in all areas of economic, political, and social life. Perpetrators of vicious attacks against minority faith groups are often aided and abetted by the governing echelons of civil and governmental leadership. The overwhelming evidence proving the criminal wrongdoing of Abdul Jabbar helps to illustrate this bias.

In this way, Huma’s and her family’s faith place them in a severe disadvantage as they seek justice in Pakistan.

Simply put, religious identity in Pakistan determines the daily life of a Pakistani citizen. Members of minority faith communities (Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, etc.) do not enjoy equal rights as guaranteed by the Pakistani Constitution. Religious minorities are continually discriminated against in the judicial system, in places of employment, and in other areas of civil society.

ICC has tracked such cases for years in dealing specifically with Christian persecution. Huma’s Christian identity plays directly into how this case has carried out in the courts and even in the resistance of the local police in assisting Huma’s parents to file a First Incident Report (FIR). Huma’s religious identity is central to this case. The general position of religious minorities sets them in a second class citizen status. Pakistan’s religious minorities stand in a position disadvantage from the very beginning.

In terms of rule of law, in cases like Huma’s the situation escalates dramatically as religion is injected into the situation. The case becomes less about the fact that a 14-year-old child was forced to marry a grown man, and more about the fact that Islam is apparently under threat. The volatility is further exacerbated as ruling religious elites in the majority faith actively stoke these religious tensions and pit communities against each other which manifests in violent mobs attacking minority communities.

Sexual violence, when it becomes a part of the issue as in Huma’s case, brings a whole new dimension to the already-conservative culture of Pakistan where one’s honor, the faith community’s honor, and the honor of one’s family is among the most cherished bedrocks of life.

Once these elements are at play in the case, the rule of law (in many ways) becomes secondary. Courts will often decide on behalf of the members of the majority community as they want to preserve the honor of Islam.

Adding more complexity to the case is the fact that Huma is reportedly now pregnant, which begs the question of what will be the child’s religious identity? Who will have custody if the ‘marriage’ is officially declared null and void—who gets to decide? A Christian woman who is of the minor faith community or a member of the majority Muslim community?

Among the multitude of tragedies in the case is the fact that the selfish, dishonorable, and wicked actions of Abdul Jabbar have robbed a family of their daughter, robbed Huma of her freedom and life, and brought dishonor to the Islamic faith community of Pakistan.

If you would like to help Huma, please consider signing ICC’s petition on her case.

Matias Perttula serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]