A mother in Pakistan has spoken of her distress after a man struck while the country was in lockdown, abducting the woman’s 14-year-old daughter, forcing her to marry him and abandon her Christian faith.
Faisalabad Magistrates Court ruled in favour of Mohamad Nakash, who claimed that Catholic girl Maira Shahbaz is 19 in spite of evidence being produced to show she is five years younger including a birth certificate, as well as official church and school documents.
Maira’s mother, Nighat, was rushed to hospital in Faisalabad suffering shock after two witnesses, Parvaiz and Nadeem Masih, described how at about 2pm on 28th April Mr Nakash and two accomplices – all bearing arms – bundled the 14-year-old into a car near her home, firing shots into the air as they drove off.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity for persecuted Christians, shortly after being discharged from hospital, Nighat said: “I beg that my daughter be returned to us. I am frightened that I will never see her again.”
ACN, which supports people accused of blasphemy in Pakistan Pakistan with legal and paralegal aid, also spoke to Maira’s older sister, Saira, 16, who said: “Maira is still a child and has been taken advantage of. She loves singing and I miss her and her singing so much.”
The family’s lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, said that Mr Nakash is already married with two children and came across Maira as he lives not far from her home near Madina Town, where he works as a barber.
Mr Sandhu said that in court Mr Nakash produced fabricated documents allegedly showing that he and Maira had married last October when she was still 13.
The lawyer, a Catholic, who had for several years been a college room-mate of assassinated Pakistan minority rights campaigner and minister Shahbaz Bhatti, said: “The people who do this kind of thing to a young child like Maira treat us not as human beings but as if we’re animals.”
He said that during the court hearing, on 5th May, Faisalabad magistrate Kamran Khalid had been swayed by up to 150 men who gathered at the court to support Mr Nakash.
Mr Sandhu said he would appeal the decision, taking the case to Lahore High Court and if necessary Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which in October 2018 sensationally overturned the case of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman on death row for blasphemy.
ACN also spoke to Lala Robin Daniel, a human rights activist, friend and neighbour of Maira and her family, who said: “The Shahbaz family is one of the poorest in Madina Town. What little they earn is from their work as cleaners.
“The father has left them and in our society, this poor Christian family are very vulnerable.”
The family explained that Maira had to leave school early because the family could no longer afford the fees and instead she got a job.
About 1,000 Christian and Hindu women and girls are abducted every year in Pakistan, according to the Movement for Solidarity and Peace, a human rights organisation in the country.
ACN has supported the case of another 14-year-old Christian girl, Huma Younus, who, according to family, was abducted from her parents’ home in Karachi last October by a man named Abdul Jabbar.