The Supreme Court of Pakistan on July 14 rejected a constitutional petition to protect Christian girls from forced conversion and underage marriage.
Renowned human rights lawyer Saif Ul Malook, who previously represented Asia Bibi, filed the petition on behalf of Bishop Azad Marshall, moderator bishop of the Church of Pakistan and president of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan.
The petition asserted that Pakistani courts fail to consider whether declarations of consent from young girls are voluntary or result from threats, psychological abuse and conditioning, or fear of social stigma and rebuke.
Pakistan leads the world in forced marriages, with about 1,000 Christians married against their will to Muslims from November 2019 to October 2020, according to Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List.
The petition also asked the high court to recognize the difference between Pakistani penal laws and Sharia law, also known as Islamic law.
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 law, courts have often upheld underage marriages, especially those of Christian girls forced to convert to Islam, argued Marshall.
“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,” he 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.”
According to International Christian Concern, Supreme Court Justice Mushir Alam rejected the petition because he said it was improperly filed, as it did not address an individual case or grievance.
“We had pinned our hopes on the Supreme Court for addressing this longstanding genuine grievance of the Pakistani Christians, but we are deeply disappointed and saddened by this decision,” Marshall told Morning Star News. “The court has, however, stated in the order that it will take this issue up if we bring a specific case before it.”
Marshall plans to resubmit the petition before the Supreme Court of Pakistan in connection with the case of Nayab Gill, a 13-year-old Pakistani Christian girl who was abducted from her home in May and forced to marry a 30-year-old man and convert to Islam.
In early June, the Lahore High Court awarded custody of Nayab to her abductor.