Benish Imran was kidnapped by a man who then forced her to embrace Islam. In court, she said she was 19 and had married of her own free will. The association that follows the case complains of dozens of similar episodes.
Lahore (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A 14-year-old Christian girl was recently abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and forced to marry a Muslim man. She then went before a judge and signed a statement in which she claims to have acted of her own free will.
Her father and the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an interdenominational organisation that offers free legal support to victims of religious intolerance, went public with the story, saying that the girl’s life has been threatened.
The girl, Benish Imran, went missing from home on 2 July, after she was kidnapped by Waheed Ahmed, who then forced her to deny her Christian faith and marry him. The following day, Imran Masih, the father of the 14-year-old, went to the police station and filed a complaint against people unknown, unaware of what had happened to his daughter.
A few days later, the police informed him that they had received Benish's conversion and marriage certificates, and that the latter was going to go before the district magistrate in Lahore on 12 July to register her statement.
In addition to Benish and her husband Waheed Ahmed, CLAAS’s lawyer, Nasir Anjum, was present in the courtroom on behalf of the girl’s father who filed an appeal against the marriage.
During the audience, Benish told the judge that she was 19, that she had embraced Islam and had married her husband of her own free will.
The lawyer protested that the girl’s age was false and showed the real birth certificate, which shows the date of 8 October 2005. Since she was under age, the lawyer pointed out that, under Pakistani law, the girl could not marry, not even of her own free will. He therefore requested that her statement not be recorded. The judge however did not issue the order to do so, and had the girl’s statement recorded.
According to CLAAS, the fact that Benish made a false statement "is a normal practice” since “girls often give such statements because they are already living with their kidnappers,” and “death threats are made towards their family, and therefore the victims have no choice but to say what their kidnapper wants them to say in court.” However, “we have seen in the past that many girls flee whenever they get a chance.”
In "recent months, dozens of women and underage girls have been kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam and the number is continuing to grow,” said CLAAS-UK director Nasir Saeed.
To highlight the problem of abductions, Christian and Hindu activists have organised protests, including during Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to the United States this week, when members of the Pakistani diaspora held a sit-in.
In all cases, Saeed noted, "the government is not paying any attention”. Ultimately, in his view, “The Pakistani Government must take this matter seriously and take all necessary steps to stop the ongoing forced conversion of underaged Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan.”