A 12-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan who was shackled and enslaved by a Muslim man is now back home after a stunning court victory.
The district court in Faisalabad ruled on Feb. 16, that Farah Shaheen should be allowed to return home after declaring that her marriage to 45-year-old Khizar Ahmed Ali was invalid.
Farah was reportedly forced into marriage by Ali but the court said the union was not registered with local authorities. The girl was also found to be only 12 years old.
In December, police discovered Farah in Ali’s home with wounds to her hands and feet. She later claimed that she was shackled hand and foot and Ali had forced her to work from dawn to dusk.
Bishop Iftikhar Indryas, who spearheaded the campaign for Farah to be reunited with her father, told Aid to the Church in Need, said the girl broke down in tears when she heard the news.
The Catholic charity reported that Farah had an “emotional reunion” with her family where she now lives with her five siblings, her father and grandfather. She lost her mother four years ago.
Farah’s case made the headlines amid reports that police had bungled an investigation to discover her whereabouts after her father reported her disappearance back in June.
The Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan has reported that every year up to 1,000 female Christians and Hindus with ages between 12 and 25 are abducted by Muslim men, with forced marriage and conversion being commonplace as well as gang rape, trafficking and forced labor.
“Once and for all, Pakistan must end the forced conversion of our girls,” said Bishop Indryas.
The bishop said the girls from Christian and other minority faith backgrounds have been badly affected by the practice. “It is time the government brought this evil to an end,” he said.
Pakistan’s Christian population of about 2.5 million in the Muslim majority country of 223 million faces frequent discrimination.
In 2020 a 14-year-old Catholic girl from Faisalabad was kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to “marry” her 45-year-old kidnapper.
She managed to escape and is in hiding with her parents after a court ruled she must return to her abductor.
In December, Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan ordered an inquiry into the forced conversions of religious minority women and girls.
“We are aware of the incident and the state of Pakistan is fully committed to ensure justice to minorities whether it’s forced marriage or forced conversion,” said Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, Khan’s special representative for religious harmony.
Open Doors International, a Christian human rights organization, noted in a recent report that Christians in Pakistan face extreme persecution in every area of their lives, with believers who have converted from Islam facing the greatest levels of persecution, but with all Christians being considered second-class citizens.