Farah Shaheen at New Convent School in Faisalabad on Feb. 16. (Photo: Lala Robin Daniel)
A Pakistani court has ordered the release of a teenage Christian girl who was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, married to a 45-year-old Muslim man and later moved to a government-run shelter home.
Faisalabad Session Court on Feb. 16 also allowed Farah Shaheen, 13, to rejoin her family.
“She wants to live with her father. Since the marriage between Farah Shaheen and Khizar Hayat has not been registered and Nikah [marriage contract] has not been verified by the Union Council concerned, she cannot be kept in Dar ul Aman [shelter house] for an indefinite period,” said Judge Rana Masood Akhtar.
“The petitioner, father of Mst. Farah Shaheen, also has given an undertaking that he and his family members shall properly take care of Mst. Farah Shaheen and that they will not allow anybody else to cause any harm to her life and liberty.”
Farah's parents had been struggling for her recovery since last June and had complained to police about the kidnapping of their daughter by three Muslims from their house in the Ahmedabad area of Faisalabad in Punjab province.
They claimed Hayat forcibly converted her to Islam and married her. She was forced to work all day clearing dung in a cattle pen in the yard of her captor's home.
In December, police in Faisalabad rescued Farah, who was then only 12. Since then, Farah has been living in a shelter house. Last month police dropped an investigation into Hayat, claiming that Farah married him of her own free will.
Bishop Iftikhar Indrias of the Apostles of Gospel Ministries International, who provided legal aid to Farah’s family, is demanding the arrest of Hayat.
“We thank all Christians for raising their voice against the insult and injustice. We shall make this success a reference to stop forced conversions of our daughters. It is our responsibility as their parents and protectors to ensure their security and support such victims of violence upon their return back home,” he told UCA News.
According to the Lahore-based Centre for Social Justice, 162 cases of questionable conversions of minority girls were reported in Pakistan’s media between 2013 and November 2020.
Bahawalpur district of Punjab province topped the list of forced conversions with 21 reported cases last year, followed by Karachi and Lahore. Around 52 percent of forced conversions occurred in Punjab province.