The Rawalpindi Bench of the Lahore High Court, on the 18th of August 2022, decided that the marriage between the 12-year-old Christian girl Zarvia Pervaiz and the 40-year-old Imran is valid. Imran is an already married Muslim man of approximately 40 years old. The judge, Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan, heard the case for a mere two minutes and then stated that Zarvia was 12 years old and married out of her free will. He refused to take into account any other evidence. Petitioners left the courtroom shortly after that. During previous court statements, Zarvia had stated that she converted to Islam and married by choice to Imran Shahzad. Based on that statement the police led Zarvia to go with Imran. The parents of Zarvia state that their daughter was abducted, forcefully converted, and married to Imran.
Previously, Zarvia had managed to make a phone call to her family and informed them that Imran threatened to kill her brothers if she would not state in court that her conversion and marriage was out of free will.
The Pakistani justice system ignored all laws against child marriage. It is likely that Imran and his wife are part of a sex trafficking ring for which they need young girls like Zarvia. We urge the government to reinvestigate the case.
Yasmeen Pervaiz, on the 13th of July 2022, filed a petition under 491 of Cr. PC. (Criminal Procedure Code) for the recovery of her daughter Zarvia Pervaiz from the illegal custody of Imran. Unfortunately, on the 18th of August 2022 Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan of the Rawalpindi Bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the case filed by Zarvia’s parents stating that the girl is 12 years old and is married out of free will. He did not want to take into account any other provided evidence and the petitioner had to leave the courtroom shortly after.
Sherkan Malik, a human rights activist, confirmed that "state apparatuses tend to support those who commit crimes such as forced conversions, child marriages, and sexual violence because they believe they will receive a heavenly reward for helping convert someone to Islam, regardless of how intentional or coercive the conversion is."
Nadia Stephen, a Christian activist with Voice for Justice, pointed out the failings of the judge, who validated the marriage despite Zarvia being a minor. The Rawalpindi court should have considered the ruling issued by the Islamabad High Court in February this year that "marriage of minors under the age of 18 is illegal, even if of their own free will." The court order also violates the Child Marriage Law, which prohibits marriages to girls under the age of 16.
Human rights activists Ashiknaz Khokhar and Ilyas Samuel asked for a bill to amend the Child Marriage Restraint Act. It must be moved in the national and provincial legislative assemblies to ensure that the minimum marriageable age is set at 18 years for both boys and girls, and the marriage of minor children is declared null and void. As an interim measure, a hold should be placed on the validation of any marriages associated with faith conversions by the magistrates. It is necessary that verification or ascertaining of age, and free will is required by senior civil judges in such cases.
The Chairperson of Voice for Justice, Joseph Jansen, said that forced marriages and the conversion of minors are harmful practices. Especially religious minorities are vulnerable since the conversion is used as a way to gain public support and to ensure the custody is moved away from the parents. Therefore, Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments must introduce comprehensive laws against forced conversions and child marriages in conformity with international human rights standards without any further delay.
Another minor Christian girl faces forced faith conversion
Lahore (17 August 2022): The human rights activists have voiced their concerns over the abduction followed by forced conversion and forcible marriage of a 12 years old Christian girl Zarvia Pervaiz, and they called upon the legislators to enact a law to criminalize forced faith conversions. They also urged the police authorities to recover her from the captivity of the perpetrators and bring the perpetrators and abettors involved to justice using the existing protections in the laws including safeguards against child marriage and sexual violence to prevent the miscarriage of justice.
Detail: Zarvia Pervaiz is a 13-years old school-going Christian girl. Her family gave shelter in their home to an acquainted Muslim couple, Imran Shahzad and Adiba with three children, at a time when they were facing financial constraints. Imran used to physically abuse his wife, so Zarvia’s mother Yasmeen had to intervene multiple times to save his wife from further violence committed against her. Disturbed by his behaviour, Zarvia’s parents asked Imran and his wife to leave their home.
One week later, Imran’s wife Adiba visited their home on 30 April 2022 and asked Zarvia to accompany her shopping. When Zarvia didn’t return home by dusk that day, her family started searching for her in Bazar and making contact with the relatives of Imran and Adiba. Then, Imran Shahzad sent an audio note through whatsapp to Zarvia’s mother Yasmeen that he has abducted Zarvia, and will not return her to the family.
On 1 May 2022, an FIR under section 365-B PPC (Pakistan Penal Code) was registered against Imran, Adiba, and their abettor Liaquat, with Sadiqabad Police Station in Rawalpindi. Two weeks after the FIR was lodged, the Police arrested all the three accused and recovered Zarvia from Faisalabad. Zarvia was kept overnight in the Women’s Police station in Rawalpindi and made to share the same lockup as that of Adiba, who was involved in her abduction.
On 14 May 2022, Zarvia Pervaiz got recorded her statement under section 164 Cr. P.C. before the Judicial Magistrate Rawalpindi, stating that “she is 14 years old, and does not want to undergo a medical examination. She has embraced Islam and contracted marriage with Imran Shahzad with her free will and consent”. On the basis of her statement, Judicial Magistrate Rawalpindi issued an order to discharge and release the accused in this case.
Zarvia managed to make a phone call to her family and stated that “the accused party has threatened her to record a statement before the court in favour of the perpetrators otherwise her two brothers will be killed.”
Yasmeen Pervaiz filed a petition under 491 of Cr. PC. (Criminal Procedure Code) for the recovery of her daughter Zarvia Pervaiz from the illegal custody of Imran Shahzad and Adiba, however, Additional Session Judge, Rawalpindi issued an order dated 13 July 2022 to dismiss the petition.
In a statement, the mother of the abducted girl, Yasmeen Pervaiz said that minorities do not enjoy equally and fully the right to access justice, as the police and the court continue to favour perpetrators from the Muslim community, ignoring the existing laws regarding child/forced marriage and sexual violence. The discriminatory practice in the investigation and trial emboldens the perpetrators to take away the underage minority girls from their parents for a lifetime. She appealed to the government authorities to help Zavria reunite with her parents.
A Muslim human rights activist, Sherkan Malik said that the state apparatuses are involved in supporting the Muslims to get away with crimes involving forced conversions, child marriage, and sexual violence committed against minority girls, with a motive to receive the heavenly reward, in exchange, for providing assistance to convert someone to Islam, no matter how wilful or coercive the conversion is.
Joseph Jansen, chairman of Voice for Justice, appreciated the parliament for passing a resolution and holding a minority convention and constituting a ‘Parliamentary Oversight Committee’ to take practical and legal measures to protect minorities’ rights against human rights violations including forced conversion. He said that the legislators must not shy away from introducing effective legal and administrative measures to address the phenomenon of forced conversions.
Nadia Stephen lamented that the judicial magistrate validated the marriage contracted under duress of an underage girl, Zarvia Pervaiz, ignoring the material evidence confirming that she is pressurized. The court must have considered the ruling of February 2022 passed by the Islamabad High Court stating that “the marriage of children under the age of 18 is unlawful, even of their own free will”. The court order violates the Child Marriage Restraint Act, according to which the marriage of girl below 16 years of age is illegal.