Police in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province have withdrawn criminal charges against three Muslim men accused of abducting a 12-year-old Christian girl who was forced to marry one of the accused, tortured and chained up in a cattle pen for up to five months.
Police dropped the charges against 45-year-old Muslim man Khizar Hayat and his two associates after the girl, identified as Farah Shaheen and who was 12 when she was abducted from Faisalabad city last June, testified she willingly married Hayat, The Times reported, adding that the police ignored her parents’ complaint that she had been abducted and tortured.
“Ms Shaheen confessed before a magistrate … that she married … of her own will and wants to live with him,” investigating officer Musaddiq Riaz was quoted as saying.
A police report suggested the girl was aged 16 or 17, Riaz claimed, while the birth certificate confirms her age was 12 at the time of her abduction.
On Dec. 5, police recovered the girl, who had marks of abuse on her body, and a local court later sent her to a shelter home, according to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.
“Officials first brought [Shaheen] to the police station after negotiations with the criminals,” Lala Robin Daniel, a local activist, told UCAN, according to ICC. “Her ankles and feet were wounded. They were bandaged at the police station. She was in trauma and couldn’t talk about the torture.”
The girl’s parents claim she was forcefully married to Hayat and converted to Islam.
“(She) has told me she was treated like a slave,” the girl’s father has said, according to The Daily Mail. “She was forced to work all day, cleaning filth in a cattle yard. 24X7, she was attached to a chain.”
“Her marriage, forceful conversion, and injured feet speak of the horror,” Daniel wrote on social media, according to ICC. “Underage girls from religious minorities are unsafe due to faulty and incomplete lawmaking. Police, judiciary, and weak laws make fun of poor parents.”
Shaheen is in hiding, with the help of the British charity Aid to the Church in Need, which has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to allow her to seek asylum in Britain, according to The Telegraph.
A 2014 study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan estimated that about 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian community were abducted, forcibly married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.
The issue of religion is also often injected into cases of sexual assault to place religious minority victims at a disadvantage, ICC has said earlier. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
Last year, the U.S. State Department designated Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating egregious and systemic abuses of religious freedom. Pakistan was also ranked as the fifth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.