A 14-year-old Christian girl who was abducted, forcibly married and raped repeatedly has escaped from her kidnapper. Maira Shahbaz fled from the home of Mohamad Nakash, an influential businessman, weeks after the Lahore High Court ordered her to be returned to the home of her abductor and “be a good wife.”
Ms Shahbaz, from Faisalabad, was abducted at gun point by two men on 28 April while she was on her way home. She was then forcibly married to Mr Nakash, who was already married. The perpetrator had presented a fake marriage certificate which claimed that Ms Shahbaz had consented to their marriage on 25 October 2019. He also claimed that she was 19 years of age at the time of the alleged marriage. However, the Faisalabad District and Session Court, which heard the case in the first instance on 28 July, dismissed these claims. The court ordered that she be removed from the home of Mr Nakash and instead remain under care in a women’s shelter home known as Dar ul Aman.
However, on 4 August the Lahore High Court overturned the decision of the lower court and ruled in favour of her abductor, stating that Ms Shahbaz had willingly converted to Islam and consented to her marriage. According to local observers of the case, the appellate court had not taken cognizance of oral witness statements of three eye-witnesses who said that Ms Shahbaz had resisted the abduction. The court also dismissed evidence in support of her actual date of birth, which was produced by her family, ordering that Ms Shahbaz be returned to her abductor, and stressing that she should “be a good wife.”
Ms Shahbaz has since escaped from her abductor’s captivity and continues to remain in an undisclosed location, in fear for herself and her family. According to local sources, more than 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls are abducted, forced into marriage and raped each year. While under the control of their abductors, girls are mistreated, threatened and abused. According to local monitoring groups, the victims are rarely returned to their families despite seeking interventions from law enforcement agencies and the judicial process.
Michelle Chaudhry, President of The Cecil and Iris Foundation (CICF) told CSW: “Maira is among the fortunate few who was able to escape the clutches of her abductor and reach home safely. All credit to this brave young girl who took the initiative to save her life. Persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan is no secret; however discrimination against non-Muslim women, particularly underage Christian and Hindus girls is on a dangerous rise. They become victims of abduction which leads to forced conversion, forced marriage, rape and even prostitution. All of this takes place in an environment of impunity, as in most cases the abductors are those who are closely associated with influential people of their areas. The Pakistani Government must look into this on an urgent basis; accountability in such cases is pivotal. Furthermore, while any attempt to bring about some kind of legislation results in religious parties protesting against it, the Government must nevertheless ensure legislation criminalizing forced conversion is brought forward.”
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “The abduction of children from their families, who are then subdued and forced to become sex slaves, is absolutely horrifying. Their whole lives and future are robbed from them with no hope or opportunity to enjoy their fundamental human rights and live as free human beings. Those few who are fortunate to flee from their abductors continue to live in real fear and at constant risk of being recaptured. We urge the police and judiciary to dispense their duties with complete fairness in order to uphold the rule of law without prejudice and discrimination, and to take firm measures to investigate, prosecute and deliver just judicial precedents that will make all minority communities in Pakistan feel confident of the organs of state.”