The family of a Christian girl abducted from Sahiwal earlier this month believes that the minor child will be forced to convert to Islam and marry her abductor, according to a news report.
According to the report, 12-year-old Meerab Abbas was allegedly abducted by Muhammad Daud, 10 years her senior and a native of Balochistan province. It added that the child lived with her mother, Farzana, a 45-year-old widow who works as a domestic worker.
The report stated that Meerab disappeared on Nov 2, and in all likelihood was taken to Balochistan to be forced to convert to Islam and marry Daud. So far, police have arrested two suspects, but the girl remains in the hands of her abductors.
Cecil George, a relative of the mother, told the news outlet that Farzana is suffering greatly from her daughter’s abduction to the point of requiring admission to a local hospital. Her mental state is critical.
George noted that no information has yet come as to where the kidnappers hid Meerab.
Fr Zahid Augustine, a priest in Sahiwal, joined the appeal, explaining that Farzana “already has many challenges to face in her life”.
“We call upon the government to consider these abductions and forced marriages as a grave issue and adopt strict laws to protect minorities, who are essential for the development of the country,” he said.
“Meerab is only 12 years old, and she cannot marry,” he added. “The perpetrators commit these crimes in the name of religion. We just want justice.”
A 2014 report by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan estimated that hundreds of women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian communities are abducted, forcibly married and converted to Islam every year.
“Many victims are minors taken from their families, sexually assaulted, married to an assailant, and held in captivity justified by falsified marriage and conversion documents,” the US-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern says. “Violence, threats, and grooming tactics are used to compel victims to make statements in court supporting their captors.”
Religion is often injected into cases of sexual assault to place religious minority victims at a disadvantage, ICC previously reported, adding that perpetrators play upon religious biases to cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
In September, a court in Punjab province refused to give the custody of a 14-year-old Christian girl, who was allegedly kidnapped, forced to marry and convert to Islam, back to her parents, ruling that mental capacity gives more weight than age in child conversion cases.
The court rejected the petition filed by Gulzar Masih, a Roman Catholic rickshaw driver from Faisalabad city, seeking the regain custody of his daughter, Chashman, from her alleged abductor, Muhammad Usman.
The judge, Tariq Nadeem, said in his ruling that Islamic jurists look at mental capacity and not a child’s age for conversion to Islam. “It is a matter of faith. … Hazrat Ali was only 10 when he accepted Islam,” he said, referring to the fourth caliph of Islam.
On September 23, the Federal Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony had returned the draft of the Anti-Forced Conversion Bill to the Federal Ministry for Human Rights after raising objections on several clauses of the proposed legislation.
A press statement released by the Religious Affairs Ministry had stated that it was opposed to the clauses related to the 18-year age bar on religion conversion, appearance before a judge, and a 90-day waiting period, saying these restrictions were anti-Islamic, illegal and violated the fundamental constitutional rights of an individual.
The bill had proposed that any non-Muslim, who is not a child, and is able and willing to convert to another religion will apply for a conversion certificate from an additional sessions judge of the area where he or she is residing.
The draft law highlighted that the application would have to include the name of a non-Muslim who is willing to change the religion, age and gender, CNIC number, details of parents, siblings, children and spouse (if any), current religion and the reason to convert to the new religion.
The draft law stated that the additional sessions judge would set a date for interview within seven days of receipt of an application for conversion, and on the date, the judge would ensure that the conversion was not under any duress and not due to any deceit or fraudulent misrepresentation.
After satisfaction, the judge will issue the certificate of change of religion.
The proposed law also awarded punishment between five to 10 years and a fine from Rs100,000 to Rs200,000 to any person who uses criminal force to convert a person to another religion.
While any person who was an abettor to a forced conversion would be liable to imprisonment from three to five years and a fine of Rs100,000.
It had been highlighted that the age of the person willing to convert his/her religion would be determined by either the child’s birth certificate, or school enrolment certificate, or Nadra B-Form.
“Only in the absence of such forms the child’s age may be determined on the basis of a medical examination,” the draft added.
The proposed law also stated that the case of forced conversion would have to be disposed of within 90 days by the court, while an appeal against conviction or acquittal of an offence under this Act could be presented before the respective high court within ten days from the date on which copy of the order passed by the Court of Session was supplied to the appellant.