A Christian father in Pakistan is trying without success to gain custody through the courts of his two pre-teen daughters who were kidnapped and made to convert to Islam - writes Anto Akkara.
On 12 July 2008, a judge in Pakistan's Punjab province ignored pleas that Saba Younis, aged 12, and her 10 year old sister, Anila Younis, who went missing on 26 June from the small town of Chowk Munda, had been kidnapped while on their way to their uncle's residence and ruled that their conversion to Islam was legal.
The kidnappers, who had married the girls, had also filed for custody of the girls at a local police station on 28 June, asserting that the sisters had converted to Islam and their father no longer had jurisdiction over them.
"We are shocked by this court order," Anita Maria, a lawyer and a spokesperson for a Pakistani Christian group told Ecumenical News International recently. "Poor Christians in remote areas have to live with that." Maria said that in some cases young women who have been abducted are charged with adultery if they refuse to convert and marry their abductors.
The police had been unable to trace the girls, and members of the local Christian community were shocked when their abductors came forward to claim that the girls had converted to Islam and that they had married the girls.
The Muzaffargarh district court on 12 July said the disputed conversion of the girls was legal, and it was this ruling that left the local Christians stunned.
"We will move the [Lahore] high court to challenge this order," said Maria, who works as the programme coordinator for Pakistan's Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement.
The Pakistan Minorities Concern network said in a statement that Younis Masih, the father of the kidnapped girls, was threatened by the local police when he went to complain about the kidnapping of his daughters. The statement noted that the village has only a few Christian families living among 150 Muslim families, and said that police refused to support the Christian family. The network pointed out that in 2005, nearly 50 Hindu girls and 20 Christian girls were kidnapped and the majority had been forcibly converted to Islam.
"This is a travesty of justice. But unfortunately, this is the practice here," lamented Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, which groups four Protestant churches. Azariah said, "The courts never help us."
Christians account for only about two percent of Pakistan's 168 million people, more than 90 percent of whom are Muslim.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]