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Pakistan: Another 13-Year-Old Girl Forced to Marry/Convert to Islam

The kidnapping and forced conversion of 13-year-old Nayab Gill is, unfortunately, yet another example of a phenomenon that is all too common in Pakistan. Kidnapping, forced conversion, and forced marriage of Christian and Hindu girls takes place repeatedly, while authorities for the most part turn a blind eye or even side with the kidnappers. Most of the victims and their families charge that Pakistani authorities frequently refuse to help the victims at all.

Pakistan’s small and courageous Orthodox Christian community is as vulnerable to this persecution as are the rest of Pakistan’s Christians. The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, once again implores international human rights organizations to take action to protect Christian families in Pakistan.

For previous coverage of forced conversions and the persecution of Christians in Pakistan in general, see here.

“Another 13-Year-Old Girl Forced to Marry/Convert to Islam,” Morning Star News, June 21, 2021:

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Tears rolled down Shahid Gill’s face as he recalled the day last month when a court in Pakistan handed his 13-year-old daughter into the custody of a 30-year-old Muslim man.

Gill, a Roman Catholic, works as a tailor in Gujranwala city, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Lahore. His daughter, Nayab, was a class seven student and worked as a helper in a beauty salon owned by Saddam Hayat. On May 20, Hayat and six others allegedly took Nayab from her home, converted her to Islam and forced her to marry Hayat.

Gill said that Hayat, already a married father of four children, offered to train Nayab in his beauty salon when her school was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hayat told me that rather than wasting time, Nayab should learn salon skills to help her in supporting the family financially,” Gill told Morning Star News. “He even offered to pick her up from home and drop her off after work, assuring us that she was just like his daughter.”

Hayat promised to pay 10,000 rupees (US$64) monthly to Nayab but stopped paying her after a couple of months, Gill said.

When Nayab went missing on the morning of May 20, Gill and his wife Samreen went to Hayat’s house to inquire about her, but his family said he wasn’t home, Gill said. Later in the day Hayat contacted them but denied knowing Nayab’s whereabouts.

“He then offered to help us in finding her and also accompanied us to several places to search for her,” Gill said.

Hayat accompanied Gill’s wife to the police station to register a missing person case, but he told her not mention that Nayab worked for him or even that he used to take her to and from the salon, Gill said.

“My wife unknowingly trusted him and did what he told her to write in the application,” he said. “On May 26, we were informed by police that Nayab was in the Darul Aman [women’s shelter] since May 21. In her application submitted to a magistrate’s court the same day [May 21], she claimed that she had willfully converted to Islam a month ago and her life was at risk from her Christian family.”

Nayab claimed in her May 21 application that she was an adult, “unmarried woman,” yet her alleged Islamic marriage certificate (Nikah Nama) was registered on May 20, the day she went missing. The judge ignored these conflicting claims as he ignored other evidence, Gill said.

Nayab’s family met her at the shelter on May 26, and she told her grandmother that she wanted to return home and was willing to state this in an application to the court, Gill said.

“We were waiting outside the Darul Aman when a female warden told us that Nayab’s application would have to be verified by the Darul Aman superintendent so we would have to wait for some time,” Gill said.

Meantime, a security guard told the family that Nayab had written the application, but that the superintendent had forced her to talk to Hayat and one other person on the phone before she had a chance to sign it.

“The superintendent then sneaked out of the back gate and went to the police and told them that we had besieged the shelter home and they should remove us from there,” Gill said. “Meanwhile, Hayat also reached there and threatened us that he would open fire at us if we did not leave the spot in five minutes. We refused to budge an inch, but then the police arrived and told us to come to the court the next day for the hearing.”

Nayab on May 27 appeared in the court of Special Judicial Magistrate Qaiser Jameel and reiterated her initial statement that she was a 19-year-old adult and had become a Muslim of her own will, Gill said.

“Our lawyer did not show up at the hearing, so my wife and I directly approached the judge and presented all official documents to prove that my daughter was born on Oct. 16, 2007, which makes her 13 years and seven months old,” he said. “We told the judge that she was lying about her age under duress. She had bruises on her face, and her eyes were also red, which should have caught the judge’s attention, but he ignored it.”

The judge rejected the official documents proving her age as well as the marriage certificate of Gill and his wife, which showed that they had just entered their 18th year of marriage, casting doubt on how Nayab could be the legal age for marriage, 18, much less 19 as her Islamic Nikah Nama stated.

Gill said that Judge Jameel relied solely on Nayab’s statements made under obvious threat, rather than official documents, and failed to order an ossification test to determine her age.

“The judge accepted Nayab’s request to be allowed to leave the Darul Aman with Hayat’s family, and there was nothing we could do to stop her,” Gill said. “My mother collapsed in the courtroom as soon as the judge gave his order, and while we were attending to her, the police quietly spirited Nayab away.”

Kidnapped Christian girls commonly face threats that they or their family members will be killed if they do not testify in court that they converted and married of their own free will, rights advocates say. Intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape in Pakistan, but in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Islamic marriage certificate influence police to pardon kidnappers. Church leaders and rights activists said they fear that shelter homes, police and courts facilitate the forced conversions of Christian girls.

Gill said he made repeated requests to area priests and others to help him in recovering his daughter, “but to no avail.”

“Many local Christian NGOs assured me of providing legal assistance for recovering our daughter, but they just vanished after taking photos with us,” he said, appealing to church authorities and government officials to help recover his daughter….

The U.S. State Department in December re-designated Pakistan among nine other “Countries of Particular Concern” for severe violations of religious freedom. Previously Pakistan had been added to the list on Nov. 28, 2018.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2021 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

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