By Ahmed Saeed
Asif Masih guides his daughter outside the courtroom, as cameras click and reporters call for him to give an interview, but he waves them aside so they can pass. He has a protective arm on her shoulder, relief apparent on his face, of finally getting his daughter back.
Farah Shaheen, a girl of roughly 11 or 12, looks scared and confused but the relief is visible on her face too.
According to the court, Farah Shaheen has been allowed to go back to her parents, after a long and agonizing period of six months. For her parents and for Farah, these months were as long as years.
The story is not simple. There are legal twists and turns, but the worst part of all has been Farah’s story of sexual abuse and forced conversion.
Farah recounts how she was abducted in June 2020, and forcibly converted. “I was forced into marriage with a man named Khizr Hayat, someone much older than me,” she says. “My father tried to contact the police but no action was taken.” It was only afterwards that he lodged an FIR through the court.
Farah was brought into a magistrate’s court, but the judge handed her back to her captors, ignoring the fact that she was a minor, even though her age was listed on the form.
Even the marriage certificate presented by Khizr Hayat was incomplete. It did not include Farah’s age or ID card number – because she had no ID card.
Just when the family began to lose hope, some Christian organizations became her voice. After the media took note of the incident, the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights also took the case up and transferred Farah to the Darul Aman in Faisalabad.
But Khizr Hayat was not one to back down. He filed a petition in the Sessions Court to extradite Farah, who, in view of the girl’s age, declared the marriage a violation of the Child Marriage Restraint Act and kept the girl safe and out of his reach.
If the police had cooperated with my family and carried out their work honestly, Farah could have avoided all this suffering.
While the court has declared the marriage illegal and has returned her to her family, all should be well. But how can it be for Farah Shaheen, who was raped repeatedly during the time she was abducted?
Farah Shaheen has returned home, but will her dignity and freedom be restored? Today she has become a mirror of society, where double standards and hidden sexual depravities are reflected, especially of those who can use religion as a tool to get what they want.