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Pakistan: Christian Parents Denied Custody of Kidnapped Girl

The kidnapping and forced conversion of young Christian and other girls from religious minority groups is all too common in Pakistan. Kidnapping, forced conversion, and forced marriage of Christian and Hindu girls takes place repeatedly. Authorities for the most part turn a blind eye and 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. 

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

“Christian Parents in Pakistan Denied Custody of Kidnapped Girl,” Morning Star News, August 23, 2022:

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Refusing to review evidence from a Christian couple trying to recover their 12-year-old daughter after she was allegedly kidnapped and forced to convert and marry, a judge in Pakistan last week denied them custody, sources said.

Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan of the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi Bench on Thursday (Aug. 18) denied the petition by Parvez Masih and his wife, Yasmeen, seeking custody of their daughter Zarvia, said rights activist Sherkan Malik.

“The judge dismissed our petition in under two minutes – he even refused to look at any of the evidence, which clearly showed that the minor child was threatened to give a statement in favor of the accused, Imran Shahzad and his wife Adiba,” Malik told Morning Star News.

The judge, declaring “The girl is 12, she is married, and she did it out of her free will,” made the ruling in spite of recorded evidence that Shahzad had threatened to kill Zarvia’s two brothers if she told the truth, Malik said. The ruling leaves Zarvia in the custody of Shahzad and his wife.

Malik, a Muslim, said that Masih and his wife, who live in Rawalpindi, approached him for legal assistance over fears that their daughter had been killed after being kidnapped.

“Since May 14, when a judicial magistrate in Rawalpindi handed Zarvia’s custody to Imran on the basis of the child’s verbal statement that she was 14 years old and had married the accused of her own free will, her parents have had no contact with her, leaving them to question if she is even alive,” Malik said. “The judge told us that since the girl had already recorded her statement, this was now just a frivolous case, and there was nothing more the court could do in this regard.”

Malik said that in July, Zarvia managed to make a phone call to her brother, telling him that Shahzad, 40, had threatened to kill him and her other brother if she incriminated Shahzad in the abduction case.

“The family has an audio recording of Zarvia’s phone call to her eldest brother,” Malik told Morning Star News.

Based on this information, Masih filed a petition for the recovery of his daughter in the Rawalpindi additional sessions court on July 13, but the judge dismissed the case on July 14….

Church leaders and rights activists cite forced conversion as the biggest challenge for vulnerable minority communities of Pakistan.

“Zarvia’s case is yet another example of how minor children are being subjected to sexual violence in the guise of Islamic marriage,” Marshall said.

At least 1,000 women from religious minorities, including Christians and Hindus, are forcibly converted and married annually in Pakistan, according to various rights groups. Although Pakistan officials have dismissed such reports as “rubbish and baseless,” activists assert actual numbers could be much higher as many cases go unreported.

Pakistan ranked eighth on Open Doors’ 2022 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country had the second-highest number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Nigeria, with 620 slain during the reporting period from Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021. Pakistan had the fourth-highest number of churches attacked or closed, with 183, and overall.

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