07/14/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Punjab: underage Christian sisters kidnapped and forced to marry Muslims

by Qaiser Felix
The uncle of the victims launches an appeal for justice. He denounces a climate of silence and complicity on the part of the provincial government and the police, who are afraid of retaliation or episodes of violence. The support of Catholic associations, which are fighting to have the girls returned home.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Kidnapped by three Muslims, and forced to convert to Islam: this is what happened to two underage sisters in the district of Muzaffargarh, in the province of Punjab, last June 26. The charge is made to AsiaNews by a relative of the victims, providing further details about the affair involving, against their will, 13-year-old Saba Younas and her 10-year-old sister Anila.

According to their uncle, Khalid Raheel, the kidnappers presented a statement to the local district court affirming that "both girls converted to Islam following their marriage with two Muslims". For Islam, if a woman marries a Muslim, she embraces the religious faith of her husband as a direct consequence. The family's lawyer has rejected the demand of the three men, emphasising "the underage status of the sisters" and, in consequence, the impossibility for them to "change faith or proceed with regular marriages without the authorisation of a parent or guardian". In the course of the dispute, the judge asked to be able to see the two girls, but the Muslims flatly rejected the request.

"The local police and Ehsan-ul-Haq, a Muslim member of Punjab Assembly", accuses Khalid Raheel, "are completely in favour of the abductors. That is why we are not getting justice and are still struggling for the recovery of the girls". He emphasises his desire to "free the two sisters", and if the court does not "provide justice", he does not exclude the possibility of "appealing to the Supreme Court" of the country.

According to a statement released by the justice and peace commission of the Pakistani Church (NCJP), "the parents and Christian community of the place have been knocking on all the doors", but no one seems willing to help them. In particular, "the police, who have done nothing to restore them to their parents", are making themselves accomplices of the kidnappers. The commission also denounces the climate of intimidation that has been created around the family, which "has received serious threats from the kidnappers".

The NCJP and a Catholic women's movement have appealed to the governor of Punjab, that he personally act to "restore the sisters to their family", and punish "the guilty in an exemplary manner".

The village of Chak, where the kidnapping took place, is part of a majority Muslim area, where there are 158 Muslim families and only 14 Christian families; a climate of silence and fear dominates it, so much so that not even the structures created to uphold the law are taking "decisive measures to punish the criminals", out of fear of retaliation or episodes of interconfessional violence.

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