PAKISTAN: Breakthrough for Maira

PAKISTAN: Christian girl, 14, abducted during lockdown

The mother and siblings of the kidnapped girl, Maira Shahbaz

A Christian mother in Pakistan has achieved a significant breakthrough in her struggle to win back her abducted 14-year-old daughter amid reports that she was being groomed to enter the sex industry.

Hearings have been scheduled for next week at Lahore High Court in the case of Catholic teenager Maira Shahbaz, from Madina Town, near Faisalabad, after a local court overturned an earlier ruling that sanctioned her alleged marriage to Mohamad Nakash. He is accused of abducting her at gunpoint during COVID-19 lockdown in April and forcing her to convert to Islam.

Ruling that Maira’s birth certificate is proof that she was under-age at the time of her alleged marriage to Mr Nakash last October, Faisalabad District and Sessions Judge Rana Masood Akhtar ordered that the teenager leave the man’s home and be placed in a women’s refuge on condition she has no contact with family members. The refuge, known as Dar ul Aman, is where Maira will reside until Lahore High Court gives a final verdict, which could result in the girl re-joining her mother, Nighat, and her siblings in the family home in Madina.

Meantime, a First Information Report (FIR) has been issued against Mr Nakash, which, pending a ruling from Lahore High Court, could result in him being given a jail sentence.  Both Mr Nakash and two alleged accomplices are accused of abducting Maira. Mr Nakash is also accused of presenting the court with a false marriage certificate. The Muslim cleric quoted in the certificate has gone on record to deny involvement in the wedding and the document apparently fails to provide proof of consent from Mr Nakash’s first wife, with whom he has two children. But Mr Nakash has hit back, issuing a FIR against Maira’s mother, Nighat Shahbaz, and family advocate Lala Daniel, whom he accuses of harassment.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Mr Daniel said: “Developments over the past few days have been an answer to prayer and we are so grateful for everyone for their prayers in this case. But we need you to continue praying. Maira’s mother is still very sad. Her health is weak and she misses Maira very much. If the police and the courts know that people in the West are paying attention they will be under more pressure to follow the law rather than give into extremist groups who are not favourable to Christians.”

He described Maira’s move from her abductor’s home to the refuge as “a miracle”, citing evidence that, had she stayed, she may have been forced to become a sex worker. Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu, who is representing Maira and the family in Lahore High Court, said: “In terms of evidence to prove Maira is under age, we are on very solid ground with a birth certificate and other official documents. “I am hopeful of a good outcome.”