13-year-old Nayab Gill, a Christian, was working in a beauty shop owned by 30-year-old Saddam Hayat, a Muslim who kidnapped her and forced her to convert to Islam and marry him.
William Stark of International Christian Concern reports the parents went to the Lahore High Court arguing that the girl could not consent to marriage or conversion under secular law. But on July 1st, the court ultimately sided with Sharia law.
"They found that because she had supposedly converted to Islam of her own free will and had married the 30-year-old of her own free will that they were going to uphold the custody of the husband over the 13-year-old girl," Stark relays.
That is because in an application submitted to a magistrate's court, Nayab claimed she had willfully converted to Islam and that her life was at risk from her Christian family. Nayab also claimed in the application to be 19 years old, which would have made her old enough to consent. So after the hearing, when Justice Shahram Sarwar Chaudhry rejected the girl's official birth documents showing she was only 13, the parents had to watch their little girl leave with her abductor.
"What we often see in these cases is that these women and girls are held against their will, they are threatened, they are beaten to a point that they sign these documents that say, 'Yes, I converted by my own free will.' Or they're threatened or intimidated before going to court, and they give testimony in court saying, 'Yes, I converted of my own free will,'" Stark laments.
According to a 2014 study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, as many as 1,000 Christian and Hindu women and girls are abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted to Islam every year. Many victims are minors taken from their families, sexually assaulted, married to an assailant, and held in captivity justified by falsified marriage and conversion documents. Violence and threats are used to compel victims to make statements in court supporting their captors.
In Nayab Gill's case, the family is planning to appeal to Pakistan's Supreme Court. But the girl could grow to legally be an adult before any decision is rendered.