A Pakistani Christian girl who was kidnapped and forced to marry her Muslim abductor has, in a welcome move by authorities, been reunited with her family after nearly six months.
Twelve-year-old Farah Shaheen was recovered by police on 5 December, after being found in a locked room with injuries to her hands and feet. A Barnabas Fund contact reported that Farah had been tortured by her abductor and was often kept locked in a room. “She is very happy to be back with her family,” the contact added.
Farah was forced to convert to Islam and marry her 45-year-old Muslim kidnapper, Khizar Hayat, three days after she was snatched in Faisalabad, on 25 June 2020.
She was recovered after orders were issued by the Punjab court placing Farah in a safe house briefly before returning her to her family. It is unclear what led to the court’s decision after months of delay and inaction from the authorities and the police.
Asif Masih, the girl’s father, had pleaded repeatedly with police to take action to free his daughter, but was refused permission to file an official complaint until September. He wrote to the Central Police Officer (CPO) of Faisalabad asking for the authorities to intervene. “I went to the local police station several times but it was no use … they refused to take any action,” he said.
Rather than registering a case against the kidnapper, a policeman told Masih to forget about his daughter and be happy that she had been converted to Islam.
On one subsequent visit to the police station, an officer called Masih a chuhra, a term of derision commonly taken to mean latrine cleaner that is often used to insult Christians, saying, “Christians are meant to clean gutters not to sit in offices.” On another occasion an officer threatened to register a “blasphemy” case against him.
Each year, an estimated 700 Christian women and girls are kidnapped, raped, forcibly converted and married to Muslims, but the authorities rarely intervene. In August 2020, the High Court in Lahore returned Pakistani Christian Maria Shabaz to the Muslim man who kidnapped her at gunpoint, when she was aged 13, and forced her into marriage. Maria has since escaped and begun legal proceedings.
From Barnabas Fund contacts and other sources