A Pakistani court’s decision to intervene on behalf of a child bride who was forcibly converted to Islam has underscored the highly contentious practice in the country.
On Feb. 18, a court in Jacobabad directed police to send Mehak Kumari, 15, to a child protection facility. The court further directed local law enforcement to act against her husband, Ali Raza Solangi, the Times of India reported.
Solangi has been accused of violating the country’s 2013 Child Marriage Restraint Act, which outlaws marriage under the age of 18.
Islamic groups had called for a strike in the city, as well as protests against the decision to prosecute Solangi. Some have even claimed the girl is “liable for death” under Sharia after releasing a statement expressing her desire to be allowed to return to her family and her Hindu faith.
Ravi Dawani, general secretary of the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat, welcomed the decision, saying it would help “diffuse the tense atmosphere in Jacobabad.”
Dawani added a ruling viewed to be in either religious community’s favor would have “evoked [a] reaction and further inflamed sentiments.”
Cases of kidnappings and forced conversions of Christians and Hindus in the predominately-Muslim country are highly contentious, with families facing threats, and communities violence, when the authorities are asked to step in and intervene.
AsianNews, citing the Centre for Social Justice, reported at least 159 cases were reported between 2013-19.
Earlier this month, a 14-year-old Christian girl from Lahore identified as Sneha, was reunited with her family after being kidnapped and converted to Islam against her will.
Sneha was reportedly beaten and raped until unwittingly signing marriage and religious conversion certificates.
Her family was forced into hiding following threats from Sneha’s abductors, who demanded that the case against them be dropped.
As reported by CBN News, the Council of Islamic Ideology and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan have called forced conversion un-Islamic, while Christian and Hindu MPs have raised the issue in parliament, to no avail. That has put them at odds with the High Court of Sindh, in southeast Pakistan, which ruled that men could marry underage girls if they had had previously menstruated.
That ruling was handed down in the case of Huma Younus on Feb. 3. Younus, a Catholic girl from Karachi, was kidnapped on Oct. 10, 2019 and taken 600 kilometers from her home. Days later, her marriage and religious conversion certificate were sent to her parents by mail.
Tabussum Yousaf, a lawyer hired on Younus’ behalf, criticized the court for refusing to act in accordance with the Child Marriage Restraint Act.
“[Such laws] are formulated and approved only to improve the image of the country in front of the international community, ask for development funds, and freely trade Pakistani products on the European market,” Yousaf told Aid to the Church in Need.
Her parents, who fear the courts will drag their feet until Younus turns 18, has appealed to the international community “to raise their voices for us.”