Minorities' plight: Christian girl’s father seeks justice alleging kidnapping, forced conversion and marriage of daughter in Pakistan
The father of a Christian girl who was allegedly kidnapped, converted to Islam and forcibly married to a middle-aged man in Gujranwala city of Punjab province is seeking justice for his family highlights once again the plight of minorities in Pakistan.
Shahid Gill, who is a tailor from Arif Town, said one of his neighbors offered to hire his 13-year-old daughter as a salesgirl at a makeup accessories shop. However, Gill refused to send his daughter to work at the shop.
He said that the neighbor who is a Muslim, continued to ask for help in his business, and because of his (Gill's) poverty, he subsequently allowed his daughter to work at the store.
Gill told Dawn.com that on May 20, he found his daughter absent at home and was informed by some locals that the girl was seen going somewhere on a pickup truck with the neighbor and some other men and women.
He said he lodged a kidnapping complaint in Ferozewala police station and a case was registered on May 29 against the neighbor and seven others.
Investigation Officer SI Liaqat told Dawn.com that two of the suspects were taken into custody but the girl later appeared before a local court where her statement was recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
The girl submitted in the court that she had left her house willingly to convert to Islam and later entered into a contract marriage with the neighbor, according to the police officer.
He said the court had allowed the girl to go with her purported husband and ordered the police to quash the case, following which police had implemented the court order.
However, the girl’s father, Gill, said his daughter is 13-and-a-half years old and therefore the court should not have accepted her statement of converting and marrying willingly.
The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 states that a marriage cannot be registered of a "child" — meaning a male who is under 18 years of age, and a female who is under 16 years of age.
A birth certificate of the girl issued by the Punjab government and shared by her family showed that she was born on October 17, 2007, meaning she is 13 as of now.
Gill told Dawn.com that after hearing his concerns, the judge had said he would go with the girl's statement.
He said the neighbor was already married and had four children including three daughters and a son.
The complainant alleged that his daughter was lured and converted and married against her will and that she might have done this under duress.
He demanded of the authorities to confirm his daughter's age from the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and provide them justice.
Minority rights organization Center for Social Justice (CSJ) had said last year that more than 160 questionable conversions of women and underage girls from religious minorities in the country had been reported in the media between 2013 and 2020.
The Associated Press had reported in December that nearly 1,000 girls from religious minorities are forced to convert to Islam in the country each year, largely to pave the way for marriages that are under the legal age and non-consensual.
Following the publication of the report, Foreign Office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri had stated that there were no "institutionalized" forced conversions in Pakistan.