14-Year-Old Pakistani Christian and Family Flees into Hiding Over Forceful Marriage to a Muslim man
The 14-year-old Christian girl, Maria Shahbaz who was abducted and forcefully married to a Muslim man, has escaped her abductor’s custody and fled into hiding with her mother and three siblings in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
This comes some weeks after the Lahore High Court ruled that Shahbaz was legally married to her abductor and ordered her to be returned to his custody.
Last April, Shahbaz was reportedly abducted at gunpoint by Mohamad Nakash (a Muslim) and two accomplices while walking home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad.
According to witnesses, the abductors forced Shahbaz into a car and fired gunshots into the air as they fled the scene.
Shahbaz later told police she was drugged, raped and forced to sign blank papers that were later used by Nakash as a marriage certificate and a conversion certificate. Shahbaz also claimed that Nakash filmed her being raped and threatened to release the video online if she resisted.
After the abduction, Shahbaz remained in Nakash’s custody. To justify his custody of Shahbaz, Nakash claims that he and Shahbaz are married and that she has converted to Islam. To support this claim, Nakash produced a marriage certificate stating that Shahbaz is 19 years old. However, the validity of this certificate has been brought into question as the Muslim cleric whose name is listed on the certificate has denied any involvement in the marriage.
Shahbaz’s parents challenged the marriage’s validity in an attempt to have their daughter returned to their custody. As evidence, Shahbaz’s parents presented their daughter’s birth certificate to the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court. This document, supported by other school documents, proves that Shahbaz is a minor, rendering the marriage to Nakash illegal under the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
In July, Judge Rana Masood of the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court ordered that Shahbaz be allowed to leave Nakash’s custody and placed in a women’s shelter, known as Dar ul Aman, until the Lahore High Court heard her case. Following this order, police also registered a formal complaint against Nakash and his two accomplices for Shahbaz’s abduction.
Following another ruling in August, the ruling of the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court was overturned by Judge Raja Muhammad Shahid Abbasi of the Lahore High Court, who ruled in favor of Nakash because the court found that Shahbaz had converted to Islam.
“This case has highlighted the wicked tactics used to force victims to make statements in favor of their abductors before the courts in Pakistan,” Suneel Malik, a human rights defender in Pakistan, said. “Victims are threatened with dire consequences if they speak the truth in court.”
“Authorities must bring these perpetrators to justice without any further delay,” Suneel Malik continued.
“The government must also enact and enforce a law that protects minority women from forced conversions and forced marriages.”