02/18/2021 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – On February 16, a Sessions Court in Pakistan ordered that Farah Shaheen, a 13-year-old Christian girl, rejoin her family after being abducted and forcefully married to a 45-year-old Muslim man. The decision brings to a close an eight-month legal battle over the custody of the Christian teen.
Shaheen’s parents reported to police that three Muslims, including 45-year-old Khizar Hayat, abducted Shaheen from their home on June 25. After the abduction, Shaheen’s parents claim their daughter was forcefully married to Hayat and converted to Islam.
On December 5, 2020, Shaheen was recovered by police from the home of Hayat. Human rights activists reported Shaheen had marks of abuse on her body and was transferred to a shelter home by local courts.
“Officials first brought [Shaheen] to the police station after negotiations with the criminals,” Lala Robin Daniel, a local activist, told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). “Her ankles and feet were wounded. They were bandaged at the police station. She was in trauma and couldn’t talk about the torture.”
In January, authorities dropped charges against Shaheen’s abductors after she testified that she willingly married Hayat. Shaheen’s family argued she was traumatized and feared retribution from her abductors if she gave testimony against them.
The Sessions Court in Faisalabad ordered that Shaheen return to her family after she told local media she wished to rejoin her family. Judge Rana Masoon Akhtar said, “This girl cannot be kept in the shelter home for an indefinite period.”
According to a 2014 study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted every year. Many of the victims are minors. Sexual assaults and fraudulent marriages are used by perpetrators to entrap victims and authorities are often complicit.
The issue of religion is injected into cases of sexual assault to place victims from religious minority communities at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
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