07/16/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Kidnapped Christian girls, judge ratifies marriage and conversion

Qaiser Felix
The district of Muzaffargarh rules in favour of the Muslims, rejecting the request from the family that wants to bring home the two sisters - 13 and 10 years old - kidnapped last June 26. Christian associations charge that they could end up as prostitutes.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - District judge Mian Muhammad Naeem, of the section of Muzaffargarh, has ruled that the two Christian sisters "have converted in a legitimate manner to Islam", and for this reason they cannot be "restored to their family of origin". Setting aside the request from their father to regain custody of his daughters, the judge also admitted the "validity" of the marriage of the girls to two Muslims.

Saba Younas, aged 13, and her sister Anila were kidnapped last June 26 in the village of Chowk Munda, in the province of Punjab, where they had gone to visit their uncle, Khalid Raheel. This is the same uncle who in recent days reported their kidnapping, asking for help from news organisations and human rights groups. According to Raheel's account, a Muslim fruit vendor named Muhammad Arif Bajwa kidnapped the girls, and then handed them over to a friend, Falak Sher Gill, who then organised the marriage between his own son and the older of the Christian sisters, Saba. In court, moreover, father and son both stressed the "complete willingness of the girl to contract marriage".

The girls' uncle does not conceal his preoccupation, and denounces to AsiaNews that the Muslims involved in the kidnapping are acting as a "gang", recruiting the girls in order to "make them work in a bordello". This alarm has also been heard by the Catholic commission for justice and peace (NCJP) in the country, which confirms the words of Khalid Raheel: the kidnappers are believed to be human traffickers linked to prostitution, known to the police and under the protection of some local politicians. "For these unscrupulous people", charges Naeem Asghar, local coordinator of the NCJP, marriage is a pretence in order to control the girls, run their lives and exploit them for their own business purposes".

The Catholic community continues to uphold the cause of Saba and Anila, and promises that the family will not be left to itself. Expressing the hope that the girls will be brought back home, the coordinator of the NCJP emphasises that "an appeal will soon be presented to the high court of Multan, to contest the decision of the district judge" and have the girls "restored to their parents".

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