London: July 31, 2008. The head of CLAAS UK has condemned the ruling of a Pakistani court earlier this month upholding the alleged kidnapping and conversion of two pre-teen Christian sisters, and the forced marriage of the elder sister.
Saba Younis, aged 13, and her sister, Anila Younis, 10, were reportedly kidnapped on 26 June from Chak No 552/TDA Chak Sarwar Shaheed whilst on their way to their uncle’s house. Their abductors claimed that Saba voluntarily entered into the marriage and that both girls had agreed to convert to Islam.
Pakistan’s Christian community was left stunned when a district court judge in Muzaffargarh dismissed a petition by the parents to regain custody of their daughter on the grounds that the two sisters had “converted in a legitimate manner to Islam” and that the marriage of the elder sister was legitimate.
The abductors are believed to be part of a gang involved in abducting women and young girls for trafficking and prostitution. According to reports, the police refused to take any action against the culprits but have instead made threats against the family for making a complaint. The local Muslim councillor has also failed to take any action against the culprits.
Nasir Saeed, coordinator of CLAAS UK, said that the abduction and forced conversion of Christian girls was becoming increasingly common in Pakistan as a result of discriminatory laws, growing religious hatred towards Christians, and fundamentalism in Pakistan, where Christians make up only two per cent of the population.
He said the latest court ruling was a “miscarriage of justice”.
“This case sheds light on the suffering of Christians who live in Pakistan as second class citizens,” he said. “What kind of justice is this? The international community should take this seriously.”
Pakistan’s courts have previously come under fire for failing to act in cases involving the kidnapping and forced conversion of a minor Christian girl.
In 1998, three sisters, Nadia Masih, 15, Naima Masih, 13, and Nabila Masih, 11, were abducted in New Phagwari, Rawalpindi, allegedly by local police, who claimed that the girls had willingly converted to Islam and could therefore no longer remain in the custody of their Christian parents. This claim was upheld in court after a judge ruled that the girls could not be returned to their parents unless they also converted to Islam.
Regarding the latest case, Mr Saeed said that Saba and Anila should be released and returned to their parents immediately. He also called for action against the police for failing to register the kidnapping, as well as the judges, abductors and the Muslim priest held responsible for converting the minor girls to Islam.
The Pakistani Government should, Mr Saeed said, pass legislation to stop more forced conversions of non-Muslim girls to Islam “before the situation gets out of control”.
He also reminded the Pakistani Government of its obligations under international law to protect women and children and uphold religious freedom.
“Nothing less than justice and the release of the girls will be accepted,” he said.
Mr Saeed is due to discuss the case in a meeting with the Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan on Thursday.