A young Christian woman in Bahawalpur has sought the annulment of her marriage with a Muslim man, who had allegedly abducted her and kept her in captivity since August last year.
The victim, Anita Emmanuel has filed a petition in the Bahawalpur family courts for the jactitation of her marriage with Muhammad Waseem of Yazman city, alleging that he had abducted her and kept her in captivity for over a year after forcing her signature and thumb impression on a marriage contract.
“Waseem abducted me on Aug 31, 2021, and took me to Liaquatpur [of Rahim Yar Khan district]. He then forced me to sign a piece of paper and told me that I was now a Muslim and married to her,” Anita said.
She said when she refused to accept Waseem as her husband, he forced himself on her, beat her up, and repeatedly raped her.
“I was kept locked inside a room where he used to repeatedly subject me to sexual assault. Resisting his actions only led to me being left to starve. There were days when they didn’t even give me any water to drink,” Anita claimed, adding that it was months later when she gathered the courage to flee and reunited with her family.
According to Anita’s father, Emmanuel Masih, he and his family have sought refuge in Bahawalpur amid threats of severe consequences.
“We are poor people… I am only a labourer while they [the abductor] are very influential people. They made our lives a living hell. They threatened to kill me and my family or accuse us of blasphemy… keeping us from filing a case against Anita’s abduction in the first place,” he said.
Anita’s lawyer, Advocate Lazar Allah Rakha said the family was still under severe pressure to ensure their daughter’s return to the abductors.
“I have assured them of my full support and have also filed a case seeking an end to the victim family’s harassment by law enforcement,” he said, explaining that the abductor and his family had engaged the police for Anita’s return as she was still Waseem’s “wife”.
Notices have been issued to the respondents and the court will resume hearing the case on October 3 (Monday), Lazar added.
FORCED CONVERSIONS & MARRIAGES
Cases of abduction, subsequent forced conversion, and marriages of young minority girls are not uncommon in Pakistan.
Such cases are mostly reported in Punjab and Sindh which house a large number of Christians and Hindus, respectively. Human rights bodies have often called on minority councilors to intervene in cases of forced conversions, especially the ones involving minor girls.
Leaders of minority communities are also particularly concerned by the judiciary’s handling of cases of underage marriages involving minority girls.
As per the data of the 2017 national census, the total population of religious minorities in Pakistan in 2017 was 3.54%, however in 1998, it was 3.72%, showing a 0.18% decrease with 0.5% decrease in the Christian population. Christians in Pakistan were 1.55% in 1981, increased to 1.58% in 1998, and drastically fell to 1.27% in 2017 with no concrete reason given.
In 2020, 15 cases were highlighted in the media but in 2021 some 60 cases were reported in which around 70 percent of girls who were converted forcibly were under 18 years of age.