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LAHORE, Pakistan, July 13, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – A Pakistan court ruled that a 13-year-old Catholic girl must return to her 30-year-old Muslim “husband’s” home after her father was unable to convince the judge that his daughter was underage and forcibly converted to Islam.
Shahid Gill is a tailor in Gujranwala in northwest Pakistan. According to Morning Star News (MSN), his 13-year-old daughter, Nayab, helped in a beauty salon owned by 30-year-old Saddam Hayat, who had reportedly offered to train Nayab in the salon during COVID-19 restrictions.
Shahid Gill told MSN that Hayat suggested Nayab learn skills that could help support the family and assured them that she “was just like his daughter.” Hayat promised to pay the Gill family 10,000 rupees (or about $63) per month for Nayab’s help, but Shahid Gill claims that the payments ceased after a few months.
Then on May 20, Nayab went missing. Hayat claimed ignorance of her whereabouts, helping the family look for her but telling them not to mention that Nayab had been working for him.
They located her in a women’s shelter on May 26, where they were told that Nayab had submitted a claim to the magistrate’s court alleging that she had converted to Islam and was under threat from her Catholic family. The court document, listing her as “unmarried,” was filed May 21.
When the Gill family attempted to get Nayab out of the shelter and bring her home, shelter security called police, and Hayat also appeared, threatening to shoot the family if they did not leave Nayab.
The matter proceeded to the court, where Special Judicial Magistrate Qaiser Jameel heard the case on May 27. Nayab claimed that she was in fact 19 years old and had freely become a Muslim and married Hayat.
However, her parents presented the official documents to the judge, stating that Nayab was born in 2007. “We told the judge that she was lying about her age under duress,” said Shahid. “She had bruises on her face, and her eyes were also red, which should have caught the judge’s attention, but he ignored it.”
Nayab also claimed that she had freely married Hayat on May 20, which was the day before the different document she filed had registered her as unmarried. She left court on May 27 as Hayat’s wife after the judge ruled against Nayab’s parents.
Hayat is reported to have four children while already having three wives.
The matter next proceeded to the Lahore High Court, as Nayab’s parents argued that she was underage and as such could not marry or change her religion. They claimed Hayat kidnapped her, forced her to convert and then marry him.
Nayab arrived at the High Court on July 1 surrounded by police and a number of Hayat’s family.
Her parents had the assistance of Raiz Anjum, a Christian lawyer who argued that under the “child marriage restraint act 1929,” Nayab was unable to marry anyone since she was a minor under the age of 16. He also referenced a 2019 decision by another Lahore High Court judge, who ruled that children under 15 did not have capacity to change religion, and consequently ended up returning a 14-year-old girl to her Christian parents after she had been a “domestic worker” with a Muslim family for four years.
However, Anjum’s defense appeared to be wasted on Lahore court judge. Justice Shahram Sarwar Chaudhry, who accepted Nayab’s verbal testimony that she was 19, converted and married of her own volition.
Under Section 366A of the Pakistan Penal Code (1860), anyone who forces a girl under 18 to have sexual intercourse could face prison and a fine. However, Chaudhry instead cited Muslim sharia law, which states that any girl who has had a menstrual cycle is old enough to marry.
Chaudhry thus sent Nayab back to Hayat’s home as his wife, dismissing claims that she was there as his Muslim wife only under duress. Justice Chaudhry also rejected the appeal to the 2019 Lahore case, calling it “irrelevant” to Nayab’s situation.
Pakistan is a center of forced marriages and ‘conversions’
International charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) lists the level of Christian persecution in Pakistan as “extreme.” Describing the situation for Catholics and Christians in the country, the group wrote of “increasing trends towards forced conversion of Christian women – including rape of underage girls – who are compelled to marry Muslim men.”
ACN’s March report on the situation in Pakistan noted how research suggested “up to 1,000 Christian and Hindu young women and girls are abducted and abused every year.”
Indeed, Nayab’s account is but one of many similar cases occurring in Pakistan but rarely reaching the mainstream media in the West. ACN reported one such case of 14-year-old Catholic girl Maira Shahbaz’s abduction by three armed Muslim men, led by Mohamad Nakash, on April 28, 2020. Nakash is married with children but forced Maira Shahbaz to marry him and convert to Islam.
In the ensuing court case, which ruled in favor of Nakash, the judge accepted the claim that Shahbaz was 19 years old, rejecting the evidence of birth certificates.
Unlike Nayab’s case, Maira does not claim to have married Nakash freely but states that he drugged her and raped her repeatedly. In August 2020, Maria Shahbaz escaped from Nakash, prompting “groups of extremists” to search for her in order to kill her as an “apostate.”
Speaking to ACN after another under-age Christian girl was abducted and forced into marriage with a Muslim, Father Emmanuel Yousaf stated, “These cases are increasing and it is clear that the authorities are not doing enough about it.”
Father Yousaf, director of the national Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Pakistan, revealed that there were many more cases that went unnoticed because families and the girls involved were too afraid to reveal the details.