A court in Pakistan has ruled against the family of a kidnapped Christian girl who was forced into an Islamic marriage, saying in its decision that no law was broken if the girl had already had her first period.
The Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need-Italy reports that the Sindh High Court in Karachi issued the Feb. 3 ruling in the case of 14-year-old Huma Younus, who was taken from her home on Oct. 10, 2019, and later married to a radical Muslim man.
According to the charity, which is supporting the family, judge Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah ruled that the Catholic girl’s marriage to her alleged abductor, Abdul Jabbar, is valid under Sharia law because the child has already had her first menstrual cycle.
“Once again justice has been defeated and once again has been proved that our state does not consider Christians to be Pakistani citizens,” mother Nagheena Younus told Aid to the Church in Need-Italy after the hearing.
Younus’ parents said their daughter’s marriage violates the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act forbidding the marriage of girls age 18 and younger. Although the law was passed in 2014, it has not yet been applied.
“We hoped that the law could have been applied for the first time in this case,” lawyer Tabassum Yousaf was quoted as saying. “But evidently in Pakistan, these laws are formulated and approved only to improve the image of the country in front of the international community, [and to] ask for funds for development and trade Pakistani products on the European market for free.”
Muslim-majority Pakistan ranks as the fifth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on the Open Doors USA 2020 World Watch List.
As the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reports, it’s estimated that as many as 1,000 women and girls are forcibly converted to Islam each year in Pakistan, many of whom are kidnapped, married and subject to rape.
Last year, Pakistan lawmakers rejected a national bill that would have raised the child marriage age to 18 after it was opposed by Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadari and other officials.
According to Aid to the Church in Need, Younus was due to appear in court during last Monday’s hearing, as was requested during a previous hearing held on Jan 16. However, Younus was not present for the hearing.
The judges ordered a medical examination of the child to verify her age, a request made by the family’s lawyer. However, Yousaf does not trust a fair examination will take place.
“It is clear that since [investigation officer Akhtar Hussain] is in charge, there is a high probability that the test results will be falsified,” the lawyer argued. “But we keep hoping that the girl’s minor age will be proven so that she could at least be entrusted to a center for women, and taken away from her rapist.”
The next court hearing in the matter is scheduled for March 4. But even if the girl’s age can be verified, the decision to validate the marriage because of menstruation reduces the chance that Jabbar will be held to account for his actions, the charity reports.
Nagheena Younus vowed to take the case all the way to the Pakistan Supreme Court if need be.
“This morning’s sentence casts shame on the Pakistani judicial system,” ACN-Italy Director Alessandro Monteduro said in a statement. “It is unimaginable that Sharia can prevail over the law of the state. We express all our outrage, but we won’t give up for Huma and the over a thousand girls that every year in Pakistan are kidnapped, raped, converted by force to Islam and forced to marry their kidnapper.”
“Even today we have learned that all of that is legitimate, because in Pakistan even an 8- or 9-year-old girl can legally be given as a wife if she has already had her period,” he added.
According to AsiaNews, the court allowed the child to file an affidavit declaring that she got married on her own free will. However, Yousaf contends that such an affidavit can't be filed legally until the child is presented with an identity card number at the age of 18.
News of the judges’ ruling drew much criticism on social media.
“Underage #Catholic girl Huma Younus & other girls can be married as long as they have had their first menstrual cycle, the High Court in #Pakistan ruled. This is so wrong and disgusting!” former European Parliament member Marijana Petir tweeted. “I urge the @EU_Commission and the international community to stop all relationship with Pakistan.”
Popular Pakistani actor, writer and choreographer, Osman Khalid Butt, also voiced his dismay on Twitter.
“I immediately Googled the Sindh Court ruling thinking there must be some mistake,” he wrote in a tweet. “How could they consider a marriage valid when it was done under duress, after an abduction & forced conversion? Boy, was I naive.”
For the past two years, Pakistan has been labeled by the United States State Department as a “country of particular concern” for tolerating or engaging in severe violations of religious freedom.
In addition to the tolerance of forced abductions and marriages as well as societal persecution against religious minorities, Pakistan is the world’s leader when it comes to the number of people imprisoned for blasphemy.
According to blasphemy law critic Shaan Taseer, a son of the late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, about 200 people or more are in jail in Pakistan on blasphemy charges with as many of 40 of them on death row.