The Rawalpindi Bench of Lahore High Court in Pakistan denied on Aug. 18 a Christian parents' petition for custody of their teenage daughter allegedly abducted and forced into marriage by their Muslim guests.
In an interview by Morning Star News quoted by CBN News, Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan reportedly thumbed down the petition of Parvez and Yasmeen Masih, parents of allegedly kidnapped Zarvia Masih, 12.
Details of Petition, Court Denial
Sherkan Malik, a human rights activist whom the Masih couple approached for help, told Morning Star News that Judge Khan junked their petition arbitrarily.
"The judge dismissed our petition in under two minutes - he even refused to look at any of the evidence, which showed that the minor child was threatened to give a statement in favor of the accused, Imran Shahzad and his wife Adiba," Morning Star News quoted him saying.
With the court's dismissal of the petition for custody, the teenage Zarvia would remain in the Shahzads' custody.
Malik lamented the decision and explained that there was recorded proof that Imran Shahzad warned he would murder Zarvia's brother if she spoke the truth.
Malik, a Muslim, said that this threat to her life forced Zarvia to issue a statement to the court in favor of her alleged abductor.
The Lahore High Court of Judge Khan reportedly argued that the 12-year-old Zarvia married "out of her free will."
How the Shahzads Allegedly Abducted Zarvia
According to the CBS News report, the Masih couple once hosted the Shahzads in their home in Rawalpindi.
However, following Imran's violence towards his family, Parvez had to order the Shahzads to leave the house.
Imran's wife, Adiba, reportedly returned to the Masihs a week following their departure and convinced Zarvia to go with her without her parents' knowledge.
When Zarvia failed to come back home on the same night, the Masihs decided to look for Zarvia and inquired with the Shahzads' kins.
Imram allegedly sent Parvez a voice message asking him not to contact his relatives again. He also reportedly told Parvex that his daughter is with him.
This prompted the Masihs to file a kidnapping lawsuit against the Shahzads on May 1.
The Sadiqabad police reportedly located and took back Zarvia almost two weeks after.
They then arrested the Shahzads and another suspect.
Contrary to protocol, the police allegedly kept Zarvia in the same cell as Adiba.
In her May 14 statement to the court, Zarvia claimed she was already 14 and that she married Imran voluntarily.
The court relied on Zarvia's statement and ordered the kidnapping raps against the Shhazads and their accomplice to be dropped. They also released the three suspects immediately.
Systematic Child Marriages in Pakistan
The CBN News article revealed that the Masih family's fate is hardly an isolated case in Pakistan.
Antony Blinken, the United States Secretary of State, reportedly tagged Pakistan on Nov. 15, 2021, as among the countries of particular concerns or CPCs.
And in the 2022 yearly report of the United States International Commission on Religious Freedom, Pakistan again fell into the radar among the 15 countries recommended for inclusion as a CPC.
The report said Pakistan's records of "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations" of religious freedom make it a prime candidate for inclusion in the list.
The CBN News article noted that there are around 1,000 forced marriages in Pakistan each year, many of which involve women of Christian and Hindu beliefs.
These religious groups are considered usual targets in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country.