09/25/2023, 11.51
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Okara: Fleeing abduction and forced marriage, the clavary of a Christian teenager

by Shafique Khokhar

Masheel Rasheed was also sexually abused by her abductors. The father had tried to report the incident to the police, but received no support. Now he and his daughter live in hiding because they fear reprisals from Muslim extremists.

Okara (AsiaNews) - The latest case of kidnapping of a Christian teenager illustrates the dangers to which members of religious minorities are subjected in Pakistan: Masheel Rasheed, 16 years old, was subjected to sexual violence and was then converted to Islam to marry her captor, Abdul Sattar.

Masheel is Rasheed Masih's youngest daughter and she is part of the only Christian family in the city of Okara, which has around 10,000 residents and is located southwest of the cities of Lahore and Fisalabad.

Their ordeal as Christians began in October 2021, when local residents defaced the house and stole some personal belongings. The family filed a complaint with the police which led to the conviction of the accused.

The situation degenerated the following year, when Masheel was kidnapped on October 25, 2022. The girl was preparing to go to school when the attackers broke into the house and beat her father until he was unconscious.

During her captivity Masheel was drugged and subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Signs of torture are clearly visible on her arms.

During the court process to obtain the marriage certificate she was forced to falsely declare her identity because her kidnappers had threatened her by saying they would kill her family if she did not cooperate.

Despite her father's complaints to the police, Masheel returned to her family because she managed to escape. At the beginning of her imprisonment the girl had made a first attempt, but she was immediately recaptured.

Only after the death of Abdul Sattar's brother, the Muslim man who tortured her and then married her, did Masheel manage to reach Okara and return to her father.

The shocked father said he had tirelessly sought justice, but found himself faced with a wall of indifference and collusion within the police force.

Ten days ago he and his daughter left Okara, fearing for their lives. Masheel is traumatized and unable to speak. She is afraid to return home because she knows that the kidnappers claim that she should be reunited with her husband, whose family is very influential in the city.

Joseph Jansen, president of the religious minority advocacy organization Voice for Justice, denounced the incident: “Masheel was only 15 years old when his marriage was deemed valid by a judge in the Okara district, even though in Pakistan the legal age to marry is 18”.

Jansen then asked for intervention from the Pakistani government to guarantee the protection of persecuted Christians: "Rasheed Masih and her daughter remain in grave danger", he told AsiaNews. “Pakistan is bound by the Constitution to uphold the rights and security of its minority religious communities.”

Shamaun Alfred, spokesperson for the Minorities Association of Pakistan, reminded that birth certificates, church registration documents and school certificates are legal documents that provide accurate information about an individual's age.

However, in cases of forced marriages with minors, these acts are often ignored allowing illegal practices that are difficult to eradicate: “The failure of state institutions to recognize and support the validity of such official documents is a significant obstacle in the fight against forced and child marriages . It not only undermines the rule of law, but also endangers the lives and futures of countless children."

Rachel Mary, a women's rights activist, added that the police consistently favor Islamic groups and treat minority communities as inferior. “Muslim extremists willingly shelter these criminals, justifying their actions under the pretext of converting others to Islam and thus spreading their faith in Islam. The Masih family's ordeal highlights the urgent need for reform and protection of religious minorities in Pakistan, where such atrocities continue to plague the lives of innocent citizens."

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