Anila and Saba Masih, aged 10 and 13 , were abducted in southern Punjab, Pakistan June 26, while on the way to visit their uncle, local Christians and human rights groups said.
"They are subsequently reported to have been forced to convert to Islam, and Saba was married off to one of the abductors," explained Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a major advocacy group monitoring the case.
CSW said in a new development a Lahore High Court apparently agreed with over the girl’s father, Younis Masih, and overturned on Wednesday, July 29, an earlier ruling by another court t that had granted custody of the children to their kidnappers.
"The girls will now be placed temporarily in a government-run women’s shelter, after the judge said he did not believe they had converted by choice. However, the court has forbidden them to see either their parents, or their Muslim abductors," CSW told BosNewsLife.
The children are from the predominantly Muslim village of Chak 552/TDA, where 14 Christian families live alongside near 160 Muslim villagers, according to Christian sources.
In a statement, the Catholic Church’s National Commission on Justice and Peace (NCJP) said Saba and Anila were abducted by three men from Chowk Munda, a small town in Tehsil Kot Aadoo, in Punjab province’s Muzaffargarh district last month. The girls were abducted June 26 while on their way to visit their uncle, CSW said.
Local police reportedly refused to take action, despite pleas for assistance from the girls’ parents and the local Christian community.
Both the NCJP and the Pakistan Catholic Women’s Organisation have appealed to the Chief Minister of Punjab for the children to be returned to their family. “The NCJP alleges that the local Member of the Provincial Assembly, Mr Ehsan ul-Haq, is protecting the culprits, and the kidnappers have threatened the family with death if they persist in complaining,” CSW said.
CSW’s National Director Stuart Windsor told BosNewsLife that, "This is a tragic case and it is essential that the authorities intervene to secure the release of these two children and their safe return to their family." Windsor said that,
"Their abduction, the local authorities’ lack of action, and an increase in similar abductions and forced conversions in recent months is creating a climate of terror and a culture of impunity which must be challenged," he added. The official said that CSW has urged the international community "to raise this case with the government of Pakistan as a matter of urgency."