AID TO THE CHURCH IN NEED — A CHRISTIAN FAMILY in Pakistan has gone to the High Court in their fight to win back their 14-year-old girl, whom they say was abducted by a man who forced her to marry him and demanded she abandon her faith for Islam.
Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu confirmed to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that on June 2, 2020 he submitted a petition to Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan to appeal the case of Maira Shahbaz.
The family want to overturn the ruling of the Faisalabad Magistrates’ Court which on May 5, 2020 declared that Catholic girl Maira is 19 and, as such, is validly wedded to Mohamad Nakash, a Muslim man who is already married and has two young children.
Witnesses described how on April 28, 2020 Maira was walking close to her home in Madina Town, near Faisalabad, when Nakash and two armed accomplices drew up in a car, abducted her and fired guns into the air as they speeded off.
Sandhu told ACN: “I am trying my very best for the case. Maira’s mother [Nighat Shahbaz] is so very sad—in fact she is a picture of sadness. You cannot imagine the shock of losing your daughter and losing all contact with her.” He said that when Nighat Shahbaz saw her daughter at last month’s court hearing, she collapsed and was rushed to hospital with a heart attack. She is making a slow recovery.
Sandhu added: “The case for Maira being a minor is very strong. There are so many gaps and weaknesses in the opponent’s argument.” The lawyer cites a birth certificate and other official documentation from her local church and school to prove that Maira is 14. Sandhu claims a marriage certificate Nakash produced in court is a fake. The document purports to show he wed the girl last October.
Nakash argues that, contrary to Pakistani law, which forbids marriage to minors, marrying Maira is sanctioned by Islamic custom which, he claims, says it is valid provided the girl has had her first period.
Sandhu said: “In cases like this ,what we so often see is that, after two or three years, the people send back the girl to the family by which time they have satisfied their lust and have had enough of her.”
Sandhu, a former Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs, pledged to raise Maira’s case in the Punjab Assembly. A one-time university roommate of fellow Christian Shahbaz Bhatti—assassinated in 2011 because of his criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, while serving as Pakistan’s federal minister for minorities—Sandhu said: “What motivates me is my faith in Jesus and I am reminded of the Gospel passage where Christ reveals how he has been sent to set the captives free.”
ACN supports the National Commission for Justice and Peace and other organisations in Pakistan which provide legal and paralegal aid for minorities and help for those forced into hiding.
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