Maria, a 14-year-old Christian girl and resident of Madina Town, Faisalabad, was reportedly abducted on April 26 this year while going to work in a house.
After the abduction, she was forcibly converted and married to Naqash Tariq, according to the girl’s mother, Nighat Shahbaz.
Eyewitnesses Parvez, Yunus and Naeem informed the police that the attackers forcibly put the girl in a car and started firing into the air to scare away onlookers.
Once the family raised the issue in the local court and questioned Tariq’s claim that he had married Maria and that her age was 18, the judge ordered that the girl be sent to a government-run shelter home until the age issue is resolved.
“I am the one that gave birth to her but I was not allowed to meet my daughter at the shelter home due to the influence of the abductors,” claimed the mother. Later, the abductors approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the lower court’s decision. “The high court did not listen to the arguments of our lawyer and said the girl had reached the age of puberty and had married of her own free will,” asserted Nighat, adding that she had hoped the LHC would see the injustice of the case in light of their being a minority and Maria being a minor.
Lala Robin Daniel, a human rights activist from Faisalabad, said that according to the First Information Report of the incident, Investigation Officer (IO) Shahid Wala, under the influence of the abductor, ignored the minor’s age by purposefully not attaching her Form-B (birth certificate) and school-leaving certificate — which showed Maria as a minor — to the case file. “He also neglected to mention that Naqash is already married with two children, so we requested to change the IO and now the investigation is being carried out by another officer from Noshadabad Police Station,” informed Daniel.
He regretted that the role of police in this case has been biased and negative throughout.
The lawyer fighting Maria’s case on behalf of her family, Tahir Khalil Sandhu, asserted that a minor cannot change his or her religion, nor, according to the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, a child under the age of 18 years can be married. “According to the NADRA Certificate, the date of birth of Maria Shahbaz is mentioned as 30.10.2005, and the same is stated in her school-leaving certificate,” he explained. Moreover, the registrar who reportedly solemnised the marriage as per the marriage certificate produced in court has submitted a written statement to the contrary, shared Sandhu.
Sandhu said further that even though a case was registered against Tariq for submitting false evidence in court, the officer investigating the case, ASI Shahid Wahla, was being ‘lenient’ in his investigation. The investigation was then taken over by DSP Rana Ataur Rehman on the direction of the District Standing Board, Faisalabad, and is ongoing.
Maria’s mother has also appealed the LHC order and is awaiting justice as she claims her minor daughter was forcibly converted and is being held against her will.