Abduction. Forced conversion. Forced marriage.
For many, these are just words. For others, they represent a human rights abuse. For Younas Masih and his wife, Nagina (pictured), these words are their waking nightmare.
On October 10, 2019, the couple’s 14-year-old daughter, Huma, was abducted from their home in Karachi, Pakistan. Days later, Huma’s parents were informed that she had “converted” to Islam, and “married” her abductor, Abdul Jabbar. Since then, Younas and Nagina have waged an uphill battle against Jabbar and Pakistan’s biased legal system to recover their missing daughter.
“We hired Abdul Jabbar as a driver (last year) to do regular pickups and drop-offs for the family,” Younas told ICC.
Then, on October 10, while Younas and Nagina were away at work, Jabbar abducted Huma.
According to Roma, Huma’s 12-year-old sister, Jabbar told Huma that their father had been in a car accident and she needed to come with him immediately. Suspicious, Huma said she would call her father to see if he was OK before departing. Jabbar then dragged Huma out into the street, forced her into his car, and drove away. According to neighbors who witnessed the abduction, Jabbar was brandishing a gun at the time.
“We tried calling Huma as soon as we found out what happened,” Younas explained. “We then tried to contact Abdul Jabbar. When we couldn’t contact either, we went to the police.”
The police initially refused to file a report and told Younas and Nagina to wait. Ten days later, Nagina received a phone call that confirmed the couple’s worst fears.
The call came from Jabbar’s brother, a member of a military force called the Rangers in Pakistan. Jabbar’s brother told Nagina that Huma had converted to Islam and married his brother.
After the call ended, Nagina received several messages on WhatsApp. These messages contained a marriage certificate and a religious conversion certificate. Both stated that Huma was 18 years old.
“I fainted when I read the messages,” Nagina told ICC. “My mind stopped working.”
Younas and Nagina then filed a report with the police, claiming that Jabbar had abducted their daughter, forcefully converted her to Islam, and violated the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, which criminalizes marriages of individuals under the age of 18, by forcefully marrying their 14-year-old daughter.
Threats from All Sides
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the couple’s battle with Pakistan’s biased legal system and Jabbar.
On November 21, Huma was presented before the court in Karachi. However, Younas and Nagina were not allowed to attend this hearing.
According to the investigating officer, Huma stated that she had converted and married Jabbar of her own free will. However, Huma was brought to the court by Jabbar and was going to depart the court with Jabbar after the hearing. Survivors of similar cases in Pakistan were repeatedly beaten, raped, and drugged. They are threatened with severe reprisals if they don’t support the false legal reports.
Younas and Nagina were allowed to attend the next court hearing on November 26, but Jabbar did not bring Huma to the court that day. When the couple demanded to see their daughter, Jabbar claimed that Huma feared seeing her family again because they would try to commit an honor killing.
Using this false threat of an honor killing, Jabbar and the courts have kept Younas and Nagina from contacting their daughter since the day of her abduction.
Following the November 26 hearing, Nagina has received threatening messages via WhatsApp from unknown and blocked numbers. Some of these texts contain pictures of guns and videos of guns being fired. The meaning of these texts was obvious.
An Unprecedented Decision
In spite of the danger, Younas and Nagina have fought to provide the court with documents proving that Huma is 14 years old. Based on the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, Huma’s marriage to Jabbar is illegal.
After months of delay, the Sindh High Court in Karachi finally reached its first of many decisions regarding Huma’s case. On February 3, judges Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah ruled that the marriage between Huma and Jabbar was valid because she had already had her first menstrual cycle.
The judgement, which flies directly in the face of the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, was based entirely on the judges’ interpretation of Sharia law. The judgement left Younas and Nagina devastated. Huma’s ruling represents a deterioration of human rights in Pakistan. If used as precedent in other cases like Huma’s, it could have a dramatic effect on the current laws governing marriage in Pakistan.
“Once again, justice has been defeated and, once again, our state has shown itself unable to treat Christians as Pakistani citizens,” Nagina told the media after the judgement was announced.
Despite this setback, Younas and Nagina remain determined to rescue their daughter, Huma.
“We will never give up,” Younas told ICC. “We will bring our daughter home.”