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Christian Girl Kidnapped, Forced Into Sham Marriage In Pakistan

Christian Girl Kidnapped, Forced Into Sham Marriage In Pakistan

“May God have mercy on us and save our child”

ASIF HASSAN/AFP via Getty Images

LAHORE, Pakistan — Another Christian girl in Pakistan, this time aged 14, was the victim of forced conversion and marriage by her Muslim kidnapper, sources said.

Khalid Masih, a 48-year-old sanitation worker in Islamabad, said a butcher in his area, Haider Ali, took his daughter, Alina Khalid, from their home in Islamabad’s Khanna Pul area on June 24.

“Some neighbors told us they saw an unidentified girl in front of our house the day Alina disappeared,” Masih Christian told Daily International-Morning Star News. “When we started looking for her, I learned that Haider Ali, a 27-year-old butcher from our neighborhood, had planned to kidnap Alina.”

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He added that he had filed a complaint with the Khanna police on the same day, but they did not take any action.

“The first information report (FIR) was finally registered late on June 25, which gave the accused enough time to go into hiding,” Masih said.

The Masih family learned on June 27 that their daughter had been forcibly converted to Islam and married to Ali, he said.

“We learned about Alina’s conversion and marriage when she gave a statement in court in which she allegedly claimed that she had converted and married Ali by choice,” Masih said.

The Nikah Nama (Islamic marriage certificate) states that Alina is 19 years old, but it lacks the required ID number, he added.

Typically, abducted girls in Pakistan, some as young as 10, are kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and raped under the guise of such Islamic “marriages,” then forced to make false declarations in favor of their kidnappers, rights advocates say. Judges routinely ignore documentary evidence of the children’s ages, handing them back to their abductors as their “legal” wives.

Masih said his daughter could not have gone with Ali voluntarily.

“Alina didn’t have a phone and never left the house alone, so I don’t think she had any direct contact with Ali,” he said. “He kidnapped her for the sole purpose of sexually abusing her. Like all the other victims, Alina was also forced to do whatever her kidnapper told her to do.”

The police failed to find Alina and bring the suspect to court, he added.

Masih faces a huge challenge in the fight to get it back.

“My wife suffers from hepatitis C and is also diabetic,” he said. “Her health began to deteriorate due to the trauma of Alina’s kidnapping. The pain of losing our child and the thought of her suffering in captivity keep us awake all night. May God have mercy on us and save our child!”

Safdar Chaudhry, chairman of the Raah-e-Nijaat ministry in Islamabad, said police responded slowly.

“The FIR was registered on our intervention almost 26 hours after the incident,” Chaudhry said. “Had the police responded on time, the accused could have been arrested, but inaction allowed him to disappear.”

A social activist has called for legal reforms to end the exploitation of underage minority girls.

“The police must also realise their responsibility and stop aiding the perpetrators. The same applies to Pakistani courts, which provide legal protection to such sham marriages,” he said.

New bill

In a bid to criminalise child marriage in Punjab, the Punjab provincial government on April 25 tabled the Punjab Child Marriage Restraint Bill, 2024 in the Punjab Provincial Assembly, which would raise the legal age of marriage for men and women to 18. Previously, the legal age of marriage for girls in Punjab was 16.

Under the proposed bill, anyone who marries or arranges a marriage between a girl or boy under the age of 18 — including parents or guardians — could be sentenced to two to three years in prison and a fine ranging from 100,000 Pakistani rupees ($360) to 200,000 rupees ($720).

At the time of marriage registration, the marriage officiant, the union secretary and the civil registrar will check the computerised identity card (CNIC) of the girl or boy, passport, education certificate or other documents proving that both are at least 18 years of age. Certified copies of these documents must be attached with the marriage certificate application.

Human rights activists say that while raising the age of marriage to 18 for both boys and girls will help prevent child marriage, some adjustments are needed to ensure that minority girls are also properly protected by the law. Such adjustments would override all “special” laws and maxims on determining the age of maturity for girls, they say, including Sharia (Islamic law), which allows girls who reach puberty to be considered adults.

The Christian lawmaker, recently appointed chairman of the Standing Committee on Minorities and Human Rights, praised the government’s draft bill but said it did not contain any provisions for minority girls who “convert their faith” in order to marry.

“We are working on an amendment to address this issue and hope that all parties in the Punjab Assembly will support our position,” said Ejaz Alam Augustine. “Our aim is to ensure that girls belonging to minorities are protected in the same way as Muslim girls.”

Augustine, a former minister for minorities and human rights in Punjab in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government from 2018 to 2022, said he had tabled a bill to prevent forced conversions and forced marriages of minority girls in 2021, but it was not mooted due to pressure from radical Muslims.

“There is some hope now and I think it is the best time to pass legislation that will protect girls regardless of their religion,” he told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 list of the hardest places to be a Christian, just like it did last year.

Originally published in Christian Daily International–Morning Star News