The family of the 14-year-old girl denounce that a Muslim neighbor kidnapped her and they were married the day she was taken.
The abduction and forced conversion of Christian girls in Pakistan continued with impunity as another minor was separated from her parents the first week of the year, sources said.
Mahnoor Ashraf, a 14-year-old Pentecostal Christian, went missing shortly after leaving her home in Lahore’s Cantonment area for a nearby shop the morning of January 4, relatives said.
Her father, Ashraf Masih Chaudhry, told police that their Muslim neighbor, 45-year-old Muhammad Ali Khan Ghauri, abducted her with help of his friends. Mahnoor, the youngest of four children, was accompanied by her 8-year-old nephew when she was abducted, Chaudhry told police.
Mahnoor’s older brother, Akram Masih Chaudhry, said that the family began searching for her immediately after the nephew informed them of her abduction. Upon learning that Ghauri, who is married with two children, had taken Mahnoor, they went to his house but he wasn’t there, Akram said.
“Ghauri’s house is on the same street, and our families had good terms with each other,” Akram said. “We don’t know when he managed to lure Mahnoor into a relationship.”
He said Ghauri has been missing from his house since that day.
The family registered a First Information Report (FIR No. 58/22) with the South Cantt police on Jan. 5, but the investigating officer was slow to act on their case, Akram said.
“Finally, on January 7, Ghauri’s family informed us that Mahnoor had allegedly converted to Islam and married Ghauri on January 4, the day she was taken,” he said.
Mahnoor’s father has filed charges with police against all suspects involved in abducting, forcibly converting and illegally marrying the minor with her abductor, Akram said.
Ghauri abducted Mahnoor with help from friends Muhammad Waqas, Raza Ali and Muhammad Imran, and local cleric Muhammad Ibrar performed the Islamic marriage despite knowing that she was a minor, Akram said.
He noted that the Islamic marriage certificate states Mahnoor’s age as 19, though her birth certificate shows she was born on Aug. 19, 2007.
Police have yet to recover Mahnoor, Akram said, adding that they fear for his mother’s health due to her state of shock and grief.
“The police are not doing anything to find Mahnoor,” he said.
Child marriages are criminal under Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint laws.
While Pakistani law recognizes intercourse with a girl below 16 years of age with or without her consent as rape punishable by death, courts have repeatedly held that the marriage of an underage Muslim girl cannot be termed invalid because Islamic law holds that a consenting girl who has reached puberty can marry, human rights lawyers say.
Mahnoor’s abduction adds to the growing list of Christian girls alleged to have been forcibly converted and married to their Muslim abductors, particularly in Punjab and Sindh provinces.
A parliamentary panel on minorities had last year forwarded key legislation to the government on curbing forced conversions of minority girls, recommending that only adults should be allowed to change religion and only after appearing before a senior district judge.
The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, however, strongly opposed the legislation. Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri categorically stated that the government is opposed to a restriction on religious conversion before the age of 18 years.
“If someone aged 14 years wishes to convert to some other religion, they could not be stopped,” the minister commented during a meeting of the Senate parliamentary committee on minorities’ rights on July 14, 2021.
Qadri added that if someone wished to change their religion before reaching age 18, it was their choice, and that “a Nikah [Islamic marriage] or marriage before 18 was another discussion.”
Christian activists in Pakistan observed Human Rights Day on December 10, organizing countrywide protests against the forced conversions of underage minority girls. A social media campaign urged missionary schools to close the institutions on Dec. 10 in protest of forced conversions, religious intolerance, and extremism.
The protests by rights activists and church leaders, however, failed to move the government, ostensibly because of its policy of appeasing Islamist voters.
The U.S. State Department on Nov. 15 re-designated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern, a term used for states that commit or condone religious rights violations under the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act. Previously Pakistan had been added to the list on Nov. 28, 2018.
Pakistan ranked eighth on Open Doors 2022 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.