The Gujranwala police have for the second consecutive time failed to produce before the court a Christian girl alleged to have been forcibly converted and married, over a week after her family expressed fears that the child had been sold off by her Muslim ‘husband’.
As per the details, Justice Muhammad Amjad Rafique of the Lahore High Court (LHC) had on July 25 admitted a petition for the recovery of 14-year-old Nayab Gill and ordered the police to present the child in court on July 27. The court had later granted the police an extension till August 3 (today) over its failure to locate the minor girl in time.
However, as the hearing resumed Wednesday, the Gujranwala police chief once again informed the court that Nayab had not yet been recovered, and sought more time to produce the child.
The hearing was adjourned with the court ordering the police to now present Nayab on August 15.
“We are looking up to the court to ensure the safe return of the minor girl amid the police’s inaction,” Supreme Court Advocate Saif Ul Malook told Kross Konnection.
Malook said they moved the court after Nayab’s father, Shahid Gill received information from some sources that his minor daughter had allegedly been sold off by her purported husband, Saddam Hayat.
“Nayab’s paternal aunt claims that the accused Saddam had informed her on the phone that his younger brother had eloped with the girl and that she’s not in his custody now. Some other sources have claimed that Saddam had sold the girl child to some unknown persons.”
“The family is very concerned about Nayab’s safety and wellbeing; therefore, we asked the court to order police to recover the girl so that we can make sure that she’s safe and her rights are not being violated,” the lawyer said.
Gill, the girl’s father, told Kross Konnection that both he and his wife were already very worried about their daughter’s safety. He said that their fears increased when the accused told a family member that Nayab was not with him now.
“Saddam has changed his statements about Nayab’s disappearance multiple times since then and we fear that he has either sold my daughter to someone or may even have killed her. At least now the police will investigate the matter and we’ll know whether our child is safe or not,” he said.
A tailor by profession, Gill appealed the superior judiciary to fix his appeal in the SC at the earliest.
“It is now nearly a year that we have filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the high court’s decision to hand Nayab’s custody to Saddam, but the court has not taken up our case,” the distressed father said.
“Who will compensate our loss if God forbid anything happens to her?” he asked.
Justice Shahram Sarwar Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court had on July 1, 2021, sent Nayab with her Muslim ‘husband’ while rejecting her parents’ plea for her custody on the grounds that their daughter was underage and could not legally marry or change her religion on her own.
The court dismissed the girl’s official birth documents showing she was 13, and instead accepted her claim that she was 19 years old and had married 30-year-old Saddam Hayat, a married father of four children, after converting to Islam of her own free will in Gujranwala on May 20, 2021.
When the judge asked Nayab whether she wanted to go with her family or her husband, she replied that she wanted to go with Hayat. The judge ordered police to hand her into her so-called husband’s custody and “ensure the couple’s protection”.
APPEAL IN SC
The family then challenged the high court’s decision in the Supreme Court with assistance from Church of Pakistan’s President Bishop Dr Azad Marshall. Advocate Malook, who is a renowned human rights lawyer and has won freedom for several persons accused of blasphemy, including Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy convict, Asia Bibi, is representing the family in the SC too.
The appeal was filed in August 2021, and was fixed for hearing on Nov 11, 2021, before a three-judge bench headed by the incumbent chief justice of Pakistan, Umar Ata Bandial. However, the hearing did not take place and has been pending ever since.
Child marriages are criminal under Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint laws.
While Pakistani law recognises intercourse with a girl below 16 years of age with or without her consent as rape punishable by death, courts have repeatedly held that the marriage of an underage Muslim girl cannot be termed invalid because Islamic law holds that a consenting girl who has reached puberty can marry.
The appeal’s outcome is significant in view of the serious concerns of the country’s religious minorities, especially Christians and Hindus, over the increase in incidents of forced conversion and marriages of minor girls of their communities with their Muslim abductors and the former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government’s volte-face on a proposed legislation against this heinous crime.