BIG BREAKING NEWS: Court Orders 14-Year-Old Christian Girl to be Returned to her Abductor [#PakistanPersecution #ChristianPersecution] 08/06
The Lahore High Court has ordered Maria Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian girl who was abducted and forcibly married to a Muslim man, to be returned to the custody of her abductor.
This decision, made on August 4, 2020, overturned an earlier order by the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court placing Maria Shahbaz in a women’s shelter.
On April 28, 2020, Maria Shahbaz was abducted at gunpoint by Mohamad Nakash and 2 accomplices while walking home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad.
According to witnesses, the abductors forced Maria Shahbaz into a car and fired gunshots into the air as they fled the scene.
After the abduction, Maria Shahbaz remained in Mohamad Nakash’s custody.
To justify his custody of Maria Shahbaz, Mohamad Nakash claims that he and Shahbaz are married and that she has converted to Islam.
To support this claim, Mohamad Nakash produced a marriage certificate stating that Maria 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.
Maria Shahbaz’s parents have challenged the marriage’s validity in an attempt to regain custody of their daughter.
As evidence, Maria 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 Maria Shahbaz is a minor.
On July 30, 2020, Judge Rana Masood of the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court ordered that Maria Shahbaz be allowed to leave Mohamad 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 Mohamad Nakash and his 2 accomplices for Maria Shahbaz’s abduction in April.
On August 4, 2020, the ruling of the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court was overturned by Judge Raja Muhammad Shahid Abbasi of the Lahore High Court.
Judge Raja Muhammad Shahid Abbasi reportedly ruled in favor of Mohamad Nakash because the court found that Maria Shahbaz had converted to Islam.
Witnesses in the court claim that Maria Shahbaz was in tears when the ruling was announced.
“It is unbelievable. What we have seen today is an Islamic judgement. The arguments we put forward were very strong.”
– Advocate Khalil Tahir Sandu, the lawyer representing Maria Shahbaz’s parents, to Aid to the Church in Need
“The Child Marriage Restraint Act has been toothless. The legal age of marriage for girls is set at 16. However, this is not effectively enforced by the courts in Pakistan. Judges continue to declare marriages of minors valid on the pretext of puberty under an Islamic interpretation of law.”
– Suneel Malik, a Pakistani human rights activist
“The order is unprecedented and will likely mean Maria will never return to her family. The decision to make a child bride stay with her abductor will add more misery to the case. Courts must ensure that the victims of forced conversion and child marriage are able to have their statements recorded without any duress or threat so perpetrators are brought to justice.”
– Shazia George, another Pakistan human rights activist
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 community are abducted, forcibly married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.
The issue of religion is also often injected into cases of sexual assault to place religious minority victims at a disadvantage.
Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager:
“We here at International Christian Concern are deeply saddened by the court’s decision to return Maria to the custody of her abductor. This has placed Maria’s safety at risk and will likely mean any testimony she is able to give in court will be tainted by the threats she will be forced to endure in the custody of her abductor. Pakistan must do more to combat the issue of abductions, forced marriages, and forced conversions. For too long, perpetrators have used the issue of religion to justify their crimes against Pakistan’s religious minorities.”
Pakistani Court Orders 14-Year-Old Christian Girl to Be Returned to Her Abductor
International Christian Concern