10/05/2022, 11.08
PAKISTAN
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Faisalabad: Christian girl raped and forcibly converted seeks justice

by Shafique Khokhar

15-year-old Saba was abducted, raped and forced to marry. After a few days, she managed to escape and, together with her family, started a tough and arduous battle in search of justice. Often the perpetrators, Muslims, benefit from the climate of impunity. For activists Saba is "an example of the attempt to resist in the face of injustice". 

Lahore (AsiaNews) - A new case of forced conversion against a Christian girl who was still a minor raises the issue of justice and rights in Pakistan, especially of minorities who are too often victims of abuse in a climate of constant impunity.

Violence and abuse are perpetrated in the name of the [Islamic] religion, with the police and judges who in the vast majority of cases do not intervene because of a deliberate choice or for fear of also ending up the object of reprisals, thus making themselves accomplices to the crimes. 

The latest case to emerge concerns Saba Nadeem, 15 years old, daughter of Nadeem Masih and belonging to a poor Christian family of eight in Faisalabad, Punjab. The young girl was abducted by a Muslim neighbour Yasir Hussain on 20 May, raped and forced to embrace the Islamic faith, and then married to her captor. However, after a few days Saba managed to escape and return to her family of origin, while her tormentor was apprehended by the police. 

On 6 June, Saba appeared before the city magistrate to file a complaint under Article 164 of the Criminal Code, explaining that she had been taken "from Faisalabad to Gujrat" and "raped for several days". On 30 September, the judges signed the arrest warrant for Yasir Hussain, pointing out that the girl was a minor and the marriage was null and void because she had been 'forced through the use of force and threats'. However, in spite of complaints and appeals, the girl is still waiting for justice. 

Interviewed by AsiaNews, activist Lala Robin Daniel explains that Saba's case is an example of the attempt to resist in the face of injustice, with a minor fighting to see the person who abducted and abused her prosecuted, regardless of threats to her family.

In this case, the role of the police who collaborated in her release is noteworthy. Joseph Jansen, president of Voice of Justice, shifts the focus to the Council for Islamic Ideology (Cii) and the Ministry of Religious Affairs who "deny" the problem and are among those who "oppose the law against forced conversions".

"These two bodies," he adds, "are deliberately trying to expand their influence and control the political development of minority norms and resist the introduction of laws to protect minority rights".

Father Pascal Paloos recalls how perpetrators often try to manipulate or cover up investigations and prosecutions in order to go unpunished, also exploiting connivance or the non-application of norms. In addition, judges hand down sentences that in the vast majority of cases are favourable to the perpetrators, leaving unpunished cases of kidnapping, violence and forced marriages in which the victims are often girls under the age of 18 and members of religious minorities.

In conclusion, they reiterate activist Nadia Stephen's call for more thorough investigations in cases of kidnappings and forced conversions, especially if the victims are under the age of 14 and are also sexually assaulted. 

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