07/31/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Kidnapped girls, converted and married by Muslims, entrusted to assistance center

by Qaiser Felix
The two girls, aged 13 and 10, are staying at a shelter for women only. The move was decided by the High Court, ahead of the ruling on August 4, when their fate will be determined. Support for the family from Catholics.

Multan (AsiaNews) - "The decree of the judge so far is so good, that is why we and the girls’ family felt relieved” ahead of the hearing on August 4. This is the satisfied comment of Peter Jacob, secretary of the Pakistani Catholic commission for justice and peace, on the decision by the judge Saghir Ahmed, of the Multan Bench of Lahore High Court, to entrust the two Christian sisters kidnapped by a group of Muslims to the care of a state-run women's shelter.

Since Tuesday, July 29, Saba Younas, 13, and her sister Anila, 10, have been safe from their captors: the girls 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. In the days following their kidnapping, the kidnappers revealed that the two girls had converted to Islam, and that the older of them had married one of the sons of the kidnappers. In court, moreover, both father and son stressed the "girl's complete willingness to contract marriage".

Saba and Anila's family have been able to count on the concrete help of the commission for justice and peace, and on the support of the entire Catholic community in the country, beginning with legal assistance and the covering of court costs. The trial was adjourned until August 4, when the judge will have to rule on the possible - and hoped for - return of the two sisters, still minors, back to their home.

Peter Jacobs emphasizes the importance of the latest judicial provision, which removed the girls from the Muslim clan: in this way, they can spend a little time alone, and, above all, safe from the physical and psychological influence exercised by the kidnappers. "By order no one can meet the girls in government-run women’s shelter", the activist affirms, “and during this time the girls would have the good enough time to think upon the entire situation”. He also expresses "optimism" in view of the hearing next Monday, but says the fight will not be over if the ruling is not favorable.

A couple of weeks ago, judge Mian Muhammad Naeem, of the district of Muzaffargarh, ruled that the two Christian sisters "converted to Islam in a legitimate manner", and for this reason, they cannot be "restored to their family of origin". Rejecting their father's request for custody of his daughters, the judge also admitted the "validity" of the marriage between the girls and the two Muslims.

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