A 12-year-old Pakistani Christian girl, who disappeared in November, was abducted, forced to convert to Islam and marry her abductor, according to her father.
Elisha, daughter of Iqbal Masih, appeared in the High Court in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, on Thursday 8 February, where she introduced herself by a new Muslim name but told the judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui she had embraced Islam “for the purpose of marriage only”, a local newspaper reported.
Her father has brought charges against a Muslim man named Qadeer Ismail, who was recorded as aged 20 on the marriage certificate but who Iqbal Masih says is older. Elisha was recorded as 18 on the marriage certificate, but her father showed the police a copy of her birth certificate, which shows that she will not turn 13 until May.
In Pakistan men must be 18 to marry, and girls 16. Formalising a marriage between persons younger than this can result in a fine equivalent to roughly 500 US dollars.
Masih’s lawyer, Shakir Javaid, told World Watch Monitor that the magistrate, Waseem Ahmed Khan, ordered an ossification test to establish the girl’s age, following which he ordered the arrest of the cleric who presided over the marriage.
Following his daughter’s disappearance, Masih, a labourer who lives in Pindorian, Islamabad, went to the police and asked them to register that she had been abducted, but Masih told World Watch Monitor the police refused.
“A man from our locality then came to me and handed certificates of conversion and solemnisation of marriage to me and told me to get them read,” Masih told World Watch Monitor. “Then I took the certificates and Elisha’s birth certificate to the police station and urged them to register a criminal case.”
But in a bizarre turn of events, Masih and his wife then found themselves detained by the police.
“In order to stop us from going to seek legal assistance in this matter, Ismail’s family got my wife and I locked up in the local police station for a day after filing false charges,” he told World Watch Monitor. “Which is why since November I am now living with my relatives and leading life in hiding.”
Masih further alleged that “after Elisha was handed over to us by the court, Ismail’s family is threatening dire consequences if the case is not withdrawn and Elisha not returned”.
At the High Court on Thursday, Elisha was asked whether she knew anything about Islam.
“When asked who Jesus Christ was, she said he was a prophet,” Masih’s lawyer told World Watch Monitor. “When the judge asked if she knew any other prophet, she said she didn’t. The judge then asked if she was educated and she replied that she hadn’t been to school.”
Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui described her conversion as “inducement and compulsion”.
“But Ismail and the other culprits have obtained pre-arrest bail orders,” Masih’s lawyer explained. “Now I am going to contest their bails on the fresh orders by the Islamabad High Court that this marriage was a forcible conversion.”
The Sindh Assembly passed a bill against forced conversion, but it was withdrawn in December 2016 following pressure from Islamic clerics.