Pakistan Muslim "Kidnapper" Granted Custody Over Christian Girl

Thursday, September 11, 2008

By BosNewsLife Asia Service

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- A Pakistani court has granted custody of a 13-year-old Christian girl to the Muslim man accused of abducting her, observers of the controversial case confirmed Wednesday, September 10.

The Lahore High Court’s Multan Bench awarded custody of Saba Masihto, her alleged kidnapper, on Tuesday, September 9, and ordered him to pay a 100,000 Rupees ($1,309) as a "guarantee" and "surety bond" for her, said religious rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which closely monitored the trial.

Saba and her nine year-old sister, Anila, were reportedly kidnapped by three Muslim men while they were walking to their uncle’s house in Muzaffargarh district on June 16, this year. They were allegedly forced to convert to Islam, while Saba was compelled to marry one of the men.

Tuesday's ruling follows hearings on August 6 and August 20 when two medical reports of Saba were presented before the court to ascertain her age. "The reports show her to be between 15 and 17 years old, whereas her baptism and school certificate disclose her date of birth as February 2, 1995, making Saba only 13 at the time of reported conversion and marriage," CSW added.

The court reportedly ruled however that Anila's parents should retain custody of her.


The accused said the girls converted to Islam and that Saba then married one of them. The court’s decision comes as religious minorities appeal to Pakistan’s new President Asif Ali Zardari to protect human rights and religious freedom.

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, President of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops Conference, has written to the new President congratulating him, saying: “We earnestly hope that you will use your exalted office to bring unity, peace and development in our land. We especially express our fervent wish that the religious minorities, who are small in number, may enjoy their just rights as equal citizens.”

CSW Executive Mervyn Thomas said that while his group welcomes the return of Anila to her parents, they were "deeply concerned that the alleged kidnappers have been granted custody of Saba, whose conversion and marriage are likely to have been by force."

He said CSW had urged the Pakistani authorities to intervene in this case and "to reunite Saba with her family.” The CSW, he said, fully supports “Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha’s letter urging President Asif Ali Zardari to ensure the safety of religious minorities in Pakistan."

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