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Father Recovers Custody of Kidnapped and Forcibly Converted/Married Christian Daughter

Posted by on February 23, 2021 — Drop A Comment


LAHORE, Pakistan, February 18, 2021
(Morning Star News ) – Asif Masih
beamed with joy to have his 12-year-
old daughter back home on Tuesday
(Feb. 16) in Faisalabad, Pakistan
following her alleged kidnapping and
forcible conversion and marriage to a
45-year-old Muslim.
“Praise God, for He has answered our
prayers and rescued my daughter,”
Masih said hours after Faisalabad
Session Judge Rana Masood Akhtar
ordered that Farah Shaheen be
released from a government shelter
“because she wants to go with him.” In
a Jan. 23 hearing, Farah had told the
court that she wanted to live with her
so-called husband, Khizar Hayat – a
statement made under threats and
pressure at the shelter, her lawyer said.
The court verdict states that since the
marriage between Farah and Hayat
was not registered and a Nikahnama
(Islamic marriage contract) was not
verified by the area union council, she
could not be kept in the shelter
indefinitely.
“She’s deeply traumatized and fearful,
but my child is very happy to be back
in her family,” Masih told Morning Star
News. “Just when we thought that we
had lost her, this miracle happened.
May God keep all daughters in His
protection.”
Masih, a Roman Catholic daily wage
laborer, had fought for Farah’s
recovery since she was allegedly
kidnapped by three Muslims from the
family’s home in the Ahmedabad area
of Faisalabad in June. The child was
allegedly raped, forcibly converted to
Islam and forced to marry Hayat.
Although intercourse with a girl below
age 16 is statutory rape in Pakistan, in
most cases a falsified conversion
certificate and Nikahnama influences
police and courts to pardon kidnappers.
Hayat was taken into custody and
released on bail, but he has yet to be
charged for alleged kidnapping or rape,
and fears for Farah’s security remain.
Police found Farah chained in the
suspect’s home on Dec. 5 after Masih
reported she had been kidnapped on
June 25, and a judge ordered her to be
kept in police custody; she was then
sent to a government-run shelter home
while her case went to court.
Church leaders and rights activists said
they fear that such shelter homes,
police and courts were facilitating the
forced conversions of Christian girls.
Rights activist Lala Robin Daniel
told Morning Star News that Hayat and
his alleged accomplices would remain
a threat to Masih and his family until
they are taken into custody and
punished.
“All those who were involved in this
case should be given exemplary
punishments so that people have a
fear of the law,” Daniel told Morning
Star News. “Unless stern legislation is
brought against forced conversions of
minor girls and the accused are
punished, there is little hope for safety
of our children.”
LEGISLATION ON RELIGIOUS
CONVERSION
A parliamentary panel on minorities
has forwarded key legislation to the
government on curbing forced
conversions of minority girls in
Pakistan, recommending that only
adults should be allowed to change
religion and only after appearing before
a senior district judge.
The Parliamentary Committee to
Protect Minorities from Forced
Conversions on Tuesday (Feb. 16)
recommended that the Stymie Forced
Religious Conversion Bill be forwarded
to the Senate, which will decide
whether to forward the draft to the
relevant ministry.
The bill includes recommendations for
validating conversion, stating, “Any
person who is not a child and able and
willing to convert to another religion
will apply for a conversion certificate
from the additional sessions judge of
the area where the person ordinarily
resides.”
The bill calls for an application form
that would include conversion
candidates’ current religion, age,
gender, national identity number,
reason for conversion and details of
parents, siblings, children and spouse
if any.
The committee suggested that the
additional sessions judge shall set a
date for an interview within seven days
of receipt of the application for
conversion.
“On the date provided, the person shall
present himself/herself before the
additional sessions judge who shall
ensure that the conversion is not under
any duress and not due to any deceit
or fraudulent misrepresentation,” the
bill states.
The additional sessions judge may,
upon the conversion candidates’
request, arrange his/her meeting with
religious scholars of the religion the
person wishes to convert to, according
to the draft. A clause also empowers
the additional sessions judge to grant
90 days to the person to undertake a
comparative study of the religions and
return to the office of the judge.
“Only after satisfaction, the additional
sessions judge may issue the
certificate of change of religion,” the
draft states.
SKEPTICISM
Church leaders endorsed the
recommendations in the bill but
questioned the will of the government
to address the issue.
“This is not the first time such practical
recommendations have been proposed
to the government, but unfortunately all
such pro-minority legislations are either
put on the back-burner or outright
dismissed under pressure from
religious groups,” said Pakistan
National Council of Churches President
Bishop Azad Marshall.
The Senate’s Standing Committee on
Religious Affairs recently rejected a bill
seeking protection for Pakistan’s
minorities against religiously motivated
violence.
Committee chairman Maulana Abdul
Ghafoor Haideri, of the far-right Jamiat
Ulema-e-Islam, claimed in a Feb. 2
meeting that minorities in Pakistan
already enjoyed “unprecedented
religious freedom” and that therefore
there was no need for more legislation.
Sen. Sirajul Haq of the hard-line
Jamaat-e-Islami derided the bill as part
of the agenda of Non-Governmental
Organizations.
Bishop Marshall said it was
unfortunate that some religious leaders
have created hindrances to such
crucial legislation over the years.
“Forced conversions, misuse of
blasphemy law, hate speech and
religious violence are real issues
affecting the minority communities that
need to be tackled together as a
national cause,” he said.
Former parliamentarian and rights
advocate Mary James Gill said the
protection for minorities bill introduced
by her Muslim party colleague, Sen.
Javed Abbasi, was a sincere effort to
curb forced conversions and other
issues facing non-Muslim citizens,
especially Christians and Hindus.
“It’s time that the government and
opposition parties should rise beyond
party lines and seriously work on these
issues,” she said. “Intolerance and
extremism are increasing in our
country, and if we don’t stop them now,
this fire will eventually devour all of
us.”
Gill lauded the recommendations made
in the religious conversion bill but, like
Bishop Marshall, she too voiced
concern over how Islamist parties and
groups would react to it.
“Religious leaders need to understand
that legislation for protection of
minorities does not mean an attack on
their faith,” she said. “Matters like
forced conversion and misuse of
blasphemy laws are serious human
rights issues, and all of us need to take
a firm stand against it.”
Pakistan led the world in forced
marriages, with about 1,000 Christians
married against their will to non-
Christians from November 2019 to
October 2020, according to Christian
support organization Open Doors’ 2021
World Watch List report. In terms of
abductions, the report listed Pakistan
as fourth with an estimated 100
kidnappings.
Overall, Pakistan was ranked No. 5 on
the 2021 World Watch List of the
countries where it is most difficult to
be a Christian.
According to the Center for Social
Justice, 162 questionable conversions
have appeared in the media since 2013.

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About 52 percent of allegedly
forced conversions occurred in Punjab
Province, and 44 percent in Sindh
Province, while 1.23 percent each were
reported in the federal and Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa areas. One case was
reported from Balochistan Province.
The data show that 54.3 percent of the
girls and women were Hindu, 44.4
percent were Christian and 0.62
percent belonged to Sikh and Kalash
communities.
More than 46.3 percent of the victims
of forced conversion were minors –
with 32.7 percent between the ages of
11 and 15 – while only 16.7 percent of
the victims were above 18 years old,
though lower courts did not always
verify those ages through records of
the National Database and Registration
Authority (NADRA) and schools.


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