08/18/2022, 11.12
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Lahore: 13-year-old Christian girl abducted

by Shafique Khokhar

Zarvia Pervaiz, 13, was taken from her family in late April. Under duress, she was forced to claim that she had converted and moved in with a Muslim man consensually, but the Pakistani justice system ignored all laws against child marriage.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Yet another Christian child has been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and marry. Zarvia Pervaiz, 13, had begun receiving the attentions of a Muslim couple in April. The Christian family had hosted Imran Shahzad, his wife Adiba and their three children for a time at a time when they were facing economic difficulties. However, Zarvia's mother, Yasmeen, had then asked the Muslim family to leave as she was disturbed by Imran's constant abuse of his wife.

A week later, on April 30, Adiba showed up at the Pervaiz home asking that Zarvia could accompany her to the grocery store. When the girl did not return home at dusk, her parents started looking for her in the market, but she had already been kidnapped: Imran Shahzad had sent Yasmeen a voice note via Whatsapp saying he would never return the minor.

The next day Zarvia's family filed a complaint at the Sadiqabad police station in Rawalpindi, and within two weeks the Muslim couple were arrested. Zarvia was recovered, but before the Rawalpindi magistrate she claimed "that she had embraced Islam and entered into a marriage with Imran Shahzad in a free and consensual manner." In fact, the Christian girl revealed to her mother that she had been threatened by Imran: if she did not give this statement her brothers would be killed.

Yasmeen Pervaiz began fighting a legal battle to regain custody of her daughter, but on July 13 the Rawalpindi judge rejected her request.

"Minorities do not fairly and fully enjoy the right of access to justice, as the police and court continue to favor perpetrators from the Muslim community, ignoring existing laws on forced marriage and sexual violence," said Yasmeen Pervaiz. "The discriminatory practice in investigations and trials encourages perpetrators to take minority underage girls away from their parents."

Sherkan Malik, a Muslim human rights activist, confirmed that "state apparatuses tend to support those who commit crimes such as forced conversions, child marriages, and sexual violence because they believe they will receive a heavenly reward for helping convert someone to Islam, regardless of how intentional or coercive the conversion is."

Nadia Stephen, a Christian activist with Voice for Justice, pointed out the failings of the judge, who validated the marriage despite Zarvia being a minor. The Rawalpindi court should have considered the ruling issued by the Islamabad High Court in February this year that "marriage of minors under the age of 18 is illegal, even if of their own free will." The court order also violates the Child Marriage Law, which prohibits marriages to girls under the age of 16.     

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