A 12-year-old Pakistani Christian girl who had been kidnapped, held in bondage, forced to convert and marry a 45-year-old man, is home after a court ruled in her favour.
Faisalabad District and Sessions Court ruled Tuesday that Farah Shaheen should be allowed to return to her father and siblings. Judge Rana Masood Akhtar declared the girl’s marriage to 45-year-old Khizar Ahmed Ali (Hayat) invalid, saying it had not been registered with the local authorities. The judge also declared inconclusive the results of court-ordered medical tests giving Ms Shaheen’s age as 16 or 17.
The girl has an official birth certificate showing her age to be 12, and family acquaintances had accused the report of “fabricating” evidence from studies of her genitalia, teeth and bones.
The girl’s plight made worldwide headlines, while media scrutiny suggested police had botched their investigation into discover her whereabouts after her father reported her missing in June.Anger at police turned into outrage over the results of the court-ordered medical report.
Police discovered the victim in Ali’s home last December. She bore wounds to her hands and feet, and reported that she had been shackled, hand and foot. She further reported that Mr Ali had forced her to work from dawn to dusk cleaning filth in a cattle yard. Ms Shaheen stayed at a women’s shelter (Dar-ul-Aman) in Faisalabad while the court heard a petition from her father.
“Praised be Jesus Christ, mighty to save,” said Bishop Iftikhar Indryas, who led the campaign to see the girl reunited with her family. Bishop Indyras was speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), and described how Ms Shaheen wept when she heard the news. He said there could be heard cries of “Alleluia” from family members.
“Our little angel Farah is back home,” Bishop Indyras said.
Muslim men in Pakistan reportedly abduct as many as 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls aged 12 to 25 each year. Forced marriage is commonplace. Sometimes, the victims report suffering gang rape, trafficking and forced labour.
The UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Fiona Bruce, received a 12,000-signature ACN petition calling for UK asylum for another young Pakistani Christian forcibly married and converted aged 14: Maira Shabbaz, who now receives regular death threats. Bruce has brought the issue to Home Secretary Priti Patel.
Not all of the hundreds of similar cases each year have such endings, even when they do reach the civil courts. The Catholic Herald reported last year on the case of then-13-year-old Arzoo Raja, who had been taken from outside her home on October 13 of last year. Two days later, as the family searched for her, police announced that they had received marriage papers claiming that Arzoo was 18 and that she had converted to Islam to marry her 44-year-old abductor, Ali Azhar.
The Sindh High Court in Karachi validated the marriage.
“Once and for all,” said Bishop Indryas, “Pakistan must end the forced conversion of our girls.” He noted how Christian girls and others from other minority faith backgrounds suffer especially from such atrocious treatment. “It is time the government brought this evil to an end,” Bishop Indyras also said.