A 13-year-old Christian girl has been abducted, forcibly converted, and married to her Muslim abductor in Lahore two months ago while the police are allegedly refusing to help the victim’s family.
According to a media report, Naina Ashraf, a resident of Tibba Samad in Manga Mandi, Lahore was allegedly kidnapped by her 38-year-old Muslim neighbour, Muhammad Iqbal who converted her to Islam and then married her.
Naina’s father Ashraf Masih works as a sanitary worker in a local hospital and has four daughters and a son. His family is settled in the Tibba Samad village for generations, the report stated.
It quoted the girl’s mother, Tahira as saying that her daughter was abducted on January 18.
“Naina was playing with her siblings in the house and suddenly went outside. I thought she had gone to play with her friends. In the evening when my husband returned from work and asked about Naina, I started searching for her but couldn’t find her anywhere,” she said.
Tahira said they asked their neighbours, including Iqbal, if any person had seen Naina but they all denied seeing her.
“When we asked Iqbal he said Naina was like his younger sister and he hadn’t seen her, but all this time she was inside his house,” the mother claimed.
“Naina’s father and I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day, we went to the Manga Mandi police station and registered a missing person’s report.
“The next day Muhammad Iqbal appeared with a marriage and conversion certificate of Naina. We were shocked and requested him to let us meet our daughter, but he refused and said she didn’t want to meet us.”
According to Tahira, the family hasn’t seen Naina since the day of her alleged abduction. She added that Iqbal has registered a police complaint against the family for allegedly harassing the couple.
The girl’s father Ashraf told the media outlet that the accused with help of an accomplice had also attacked his wife on March 5.
“We have informed the police but no action has been taken against them as yet. We are poor while Iqbal and his accomplice are powerful and influential people.”
‘CURB FORCED CONVERSIONS AND UNDERAGE MARRIAGES’
In January, a group of experts at the United Nations “expressed alarm” at the reported rise in forced conversions and marriages of young girls from religious minorities in Muslim-majority Pakistan, calling for immediate steps to curtail the practice.
In a statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the experts urged the Pakistani government to “objectively” investigate these acts in line with domestic legislation and international human rights commitments to hold perpetrators accountable.
The group of around 12 independent UN rights experts includes the special rapporteurs on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, on violence against women and on minority issues, and on contemporary forms of slavery.
“We are deeply troubled to hear that girls as young as 13 are being kidnapped from their families, trafficked to locations far from their homes, made to marry men sometimes twice their age, and coerced to convert to Islam, all in violation of international human rights law,” the statement said.
These acts are allegedly being committed under threat of violence to girls and women or their families. The experts said the so-called marriages and conversions take place with the involvement of Pakistani religious authorities and the complicity of security forces as well as the justice system.
“Family members say that victims’ complaints are rarely taken seriously by the police, either refusing to register these reports or arguing that no crime has been committed by labeling these abductions as ‘love marriages,’” the statement said.
“Pakistani authorities must adopt and enforce legislation prohibiting forced conversions, forced and child marriages, kidnapping, and trafficking … and uphold the rights of women and children.”
There was no immediate reaction from the Pakistani government to the UN statement.
Local and foreign human rights groups say forced conversion and marriage of young women from minority religions, including Hindus and Christians, is a growing problem in Pakistan.
Campaigners say perpetrators escape legal action because forced conversions are often portrayed as a religious issue in courts, with their lawyers arguing the girls have voluntarily converted to Islam.
Hundreds of such cases are reported in Pakistan every year. Victims are mainly from poor families and low castes.
Forced conversions of kidnapped Hindu girls and subsequent marriages to Muslim men — in most cases to abductors — are routine in southern Sindh province, hosting about 90 percent of the minority community.
Hindus make up 2 percent and Christians less than 1.5 percent of Pakistan’s estimated population of 220 million.
Successive Pakistani governments have failed to outlaw forced conversions to protect religious minorities against such practices, mainly due to pressure from Islamic groups.
In October 2021, a parliamentary committee scrapped a proposed bill that would have criminalised forced conversions by proposing up to 10 years of imprisonment.
“Noting Pakistan’s previous attempts to pass legislation that will prohibit forced conversions and protect religious minorities, the experts deplored the ongoing lack of access to justice for victims and their families,” the UN statement said.