According to Morning Star News, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has rejected a constitutional petition to protect Christian girls from forced conversion and forced marriage. Following the court’s decision, senior church leaders in Pakistan have said they would continue to bring up the issue until protections are put in place.
On July 14, Supreme Court Justice Mushir Alam rejected an appeal by Bishop Azad Marshall, Moderator Bishop of the Church of Pakistan, calling for a constitutional petition to protect Christian girls from forced conversion and forced marriage. Bishop Marshal’s petition was filed under Article 184(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan which allows the Supreme Court to have jurisdiction over matters of public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan.
According to Justice Alam, the petition was not properly filed because it did not address an individual case or grievance.
“In our opinion, this is not sustainable because the matter is not restricted to an individual case,” Bishop Marshall told Morning Star News. “Rather, it relates to the entire Christian population in Pakistan and the violation of their fundamental rights.”
According to the petition, Christian girls are falling victim to abduction, forced conversion, and forced marriage. A 2014 study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan estimates as many as 700 Christian girls are victimized every year.
Courts in Pakistan do little to help these victims as pressures and threats outside the courtroom are not taken into consideration when victims give declarations of consent before the court. Also, Islamic jurisprudence is used to justify acts criminalized by secular law.
For example, according to Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint laws, child marriages are illegal and intercourse with a child below the age of 16 is considered rape. However, relying on interpretations of Sharia, courts have repeatedly upheld underage marriages, especially in forced conversion cases.
“This principle has been repeatedly invoked by judges in trial courts and high courts while handing over custody of Christian girls to their Muslim abductors,” Bishop Marshall told Morning Star News. “Ironically, this Islamic principle is often ignored while deciding cases of minor Muslim girls, and they are returned to their families instead of their abductors/husbands.”
“The government officials are not willing to accept the fact that forced conversion and marriage of minor Christian girls is in reality a bid to cover abduction and rape,” Bishop Marshall continued. “The police and lower judiciary are facilitating child marriages and conversions. Police officials deliberately avoid adding sections related to seduction of a child, abduction and rape in First Information Reports while the trial courts, and even high courts, rely solely on the victim child’s statement that they are adults and have converted to Islam willingly.”
Bishop Marshall plans to resubmit his petition before the Supreme Court of Pakistan in connection with the Nayab Gill case. In May, Nayab, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was allegedly abducted, forcefully converted, and forcefully married to a 30-year-old Muslim man. In early July, the Lahore High Court awarded custody of Nayab to her 30-year-old abductor.