July 1, 2021, the Lahore High Court sent another Christian minor girl with her abductor. The abductor, Saddam Hussain, was more than twice the young girl’s age and already had three wives.
13-year-old Nayab Gill, her face covered with her scarf, came into the court heavily guarded. Apart from her so-called husband Hussain, at least a dozen men and women surrounded her. The judge, Sheram Sarwar Chowdhury, seemed unsurprised that there also were several police officers in tow. The purpose of the ‘heavy’ squad – to support Hussain’s criminal act of converting a young Christian girl into Islam so he could marry her.
The other side of the case, however, only had three people. Nayab’s parents Shahid and Samreen who sought the legal assistance of Christian lawyer Raiz Anjum. The parents’ worn-out looks initially came with high hopes. At the end of the day, they simply wanted to bring their daughter home.
But the Lahore High Court, to which they rested their clamor for justice, failed them.
Anjum started his argument by stating the Pakistani law Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. He stressed that under the act, Nayab couldn’t enter into marriage before she reached sixteen. To support his argument, he added that as a minor, Nayab was incapable of independent decisions. Among such decisions were to convert from Christianity to Islam or any other religion, as well as marry a man a lot older than she was. Citing the possibility of deciding to convert and marry under duress, Anjum presented the fact that Nayab had been living with Hussain’s family for some time.
Justice Chowdhury, in response to Anjum’s allegation of coercion, asked Nayab to tell the court if anyone pressured or threatened her to convert to Islam or marry Hussain. Nayab said that her decisions were her free will.
The judge pointed to Shahid and asked Nayab to identify the man. After Nayab identified him as her father, Justice Chowdhury asked another question. He asked with whom she wanted to go that day. Nayab chose her husband.
Leveraging his decision on an Islamic principle that a girl who’s had her menstrual cycle was considered an adult, Justice Chowdhury allowed Nayab to go with her husband. He even asked the police officers who came with Hussain to provide them security.
Leaving no stones unturned, Anjum cited a famous judgment at the Lahore High Court on August 2, 2019. The judge, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, ruled that children under the age of fifteen lacked the capacity to change their religions independently. As a result of his decision, the 14-year-old Muskan rejoined her Christian family. She was recovered from a Muslim family after working there as a domestic worker for four years.
However, Judge Sarwar refuted Anjum’s citation as irrelevant. The judge claimed that it was a different case, given that Muskan didn’t marry her alleged abductor.
The judge’s decision and Nayab’s statements sent the parents to an emotional spiral. I approached the father and asked how he felt about the case’s result. Nearly in tears, he admitted that he wasn’t ready to express his sentiments other than feeling that he lost everything. As if requesting his wife to answer for him, he pointed to Samreen.
Disappointment painted across her face, Samreen shared that before they came to court, they had high hopes that justice would be served by the Lahore High Court. Instead, religion (Islam) once again triumphed over Pakistani laws.
She added that her daughter was too young to understand what was happening in her life nor everything that transpired inside the court. Likewise, Samreen believed that Nayab may have been brainwashed. She strongly felt that instead of sending Nayab back to Hussain, the judge should have decided that they bring their daughter home. Another better option would have been to send her to the Darul Amaan (shelter home). The time away from Hussain and his family would have allowed Nayab to think her decisions through.
However, she stressed that their fight to win their daughter back wasn’t over, even if they had to sell their property. Through the assistance of The Edge Foundation, a Christian organization that supports the development and equal rights of children, women, and minorities, she intended to bring their case to the supreme court. The organization had been providing them with legal assistance and other support.
Anjum mirrored the disappointment of Nayab’s parents. He shared his sentiments about the contradicting scenarios of laws and religion in Pakistan. Under the law, children below sixteen weren’t allowed to have an ID card, a driver’s license, or sign legal documents. In most courts, however, leveraging Islamic laws had dominated most judges’ decisions, even if those decisions ran contrary to Pakistani laws. Like Nayab’s parents, he intended to appeal Justice Chowdhury's decision to the supreme court.
Dr. Naeem Saleem, Director of The Edge Foundation shared that the decision saddened not just him and Nayab’s parents but the whole Pakistani Christian community who believed in equality and human rights. He expressed his concern that despite the alarming rise of similar cases, the government nor the judiciary didn’t lift a finger. He further stressed that in the 21st century, Islamic laws should no longer justify young girls being taken away from their parents.
Remembering the cases of Maira Shahbaz and Mahwish who escaped their abductors despite their similarity to Nayab’s case, the state should act.
Since Pakistan already ratified United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and other international treaties, the state should adopt internal measures and laws that run parallel with such treaties’ agreements. And when the Pakistani government fails, the courts of justice and national authorities should invoke international laws if their resolutions contradict national regulations.
However, said scenarios are yet to happen. And as a result, people are pushed to the wall, encouraging us to seek the helping hands of international communities. This was what exactly happened in Nayab’s case – ignored and disrespected international standards on human rights.
At this point, I’m requesting the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan to intervene in Nayab’s case. As it is, Pakistan already ranks high in human rights violations and the maltreatment of minorities. And sadly, it also is the fifth most dangerous country in the world for Christians.
Pakistan’s image is in dire need of salvation, especially at an international level. The EU already issued warnings while the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern for the violation of religious freedom. If the country doesn’t collectively act now, it might be too late.