The 14-year-old Christian girl did not appear in court “because she fears for her life.” The judge has set a new hearing for 4 March to give police more time to check medical records. Age is the key factor in the case since forced conversions are not a crime.
The Sindh High Court on Monday dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of a Catholic girl overturned because both are valid under Islamic law since a girl can marry after she has her first period.
Huma Younus (pictured, right), 14, was abducted last October and forced to marry a Muslim. For her lawyer, Tabassum Yousaf, this “is shameful”.
Speaking to AsiaNews, she explained that “the hearing lasted only five minutes. They didn’t allow us to see her even for a second,” but “we shall not stop until we get justice. If necessary, we will take the case to the Supreme Court.”
Huma was seized from her home when her parents were away and taken 600 kilometres away. Her family lives in Zia Colony, a district of Karachi, whilst her husband-abductor is from Dera Gazi Khan, Punjab.
Tabassum says that the girl’s parents “haven’t stopped crying” because the court, in just a few words citing the Sharia, has justified the violation of their daughter’s body “since she has already had her first period.”
The court battle has been going on for months with constant delays and excuses cited so as not to present the underage girl into court.
Even in the hearing two days ago, “Huma was supposed to be present but did not show up,” her lawyer said. “Why didn’t they show her to us? Why don’t they want her to testify?” In fact, “there were many other girls in court.”
“The judge said she didn’t come because she fears for her life. But they allowed her to file an affidavit,” the lawyer explained.
In the latter, Huma claims that she has married of her own free will, but the document lacks the number of the identity card issued when people reach the age of 18.
From a legal point of view, the “husband” claims that “his” wife is an adult; on the other hand, the family insists that she was born on 22 May 2005.
For the family, the whole case revolves around a key factor, age, since forced conversions are not illegal in Pakistan.
Sindh province passed the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which bans child marriages, but has failed to enforce it.
What is more, “there is a major flaw in the law, that is, the marriage is not annulled if the minor’s consent has been given.”
Although child marriage is allowed in Pakistan, more and more people are speaking out against the practice to protect children. Meanwhile, a bill to ban child marriage across the country “is stuck in Parliament”.
“The next hearing in the case is set for 4 March,” Tabassum said. “The judge gave police more time for medical tests to determine the girl’s age. We presented right away all the papers from the government, the town hall and the church. Why didn’t they ask for this before?”
“Not one forcibly converted girl has been returned to her home,” said the despondent lawyer.
For Huma, this doesn’t bode well. “As time goes BY, the less we will know about her fate. Statistics tell us that if pressure is not put on the kidnapper, the minor’s fate is always the same: she is forced into prostitution or ends up in the hands of human traffickers.”
“If we don’t succeed in the High Court, we shall go further. It is unfair that Christians are not recognised in their country. Yet we have made a great contribution to its development.” (A.C.F.)