By Jawad Mazhar, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
SARGODHA, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Christian teenage girl, who was abducted and enslaved by a Muslim, was with her parents Saturday, January 3, after a local court ordered police to free her, Christians said.
Police reportedly carried out the order on December 13, transferring Nousheen Bibi to her parents, after three months of captivity in the home of her former Muslim employee, a woman from the area of Shahzad Park in the Pakistani town of Sargodha.
She was in good health despite “intense mental stress” and there was no evidence of physical violence, Christians said.
US-based rights group International Christian Concern (ICC), with Website www.persecution.org, called the ruling a “rare legal victory” for Pakistani Christians, at a time when many impoverished Christian youngsters are believed to be held as slaves across the predominantly Muslim nation.
Nousheen’s mother, Asmat Bibi, had told the that the Muslim woman, identified as Mehnaz Begum, kept her daughter as a maidservant, two months beyond their agreement. The two women had allegedly agreed to have Nousheen work for only one month as a maid at Mehnaz’s house in exchange for a set payment.
Mehnaz apparently refused to either pay Nousheen for her services or allow her to return home when the month was over. “Surprisingly, Asmat did not encounter any opposition at court,” ICC said.
“Mehnaz thought she could get away with enslaving the Christian girl because Christians in Pakistan are considered to be very weak both financially and socially.”
The fact that a local judge ordered police to recover Nousheen at Asmat’s request was seen by rights activists as a positive development. “Asmat Bibi reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the persistent widow and the unjust judge,” said ICC South Asia Regional Manager Samuel Wallace.
The United Nations believes about 20 million people are enslaved worldwide, the majority of whom are in South Asia, including in Pakistan.
“In a country where Christians are usually unable to defend themselves against religious crimes, Asmat had the courage to petition the court for her daughter,” Wallace said. He added it was a lesson for Christians living in free circumstances to “have the same boldness and trust in God for those we love.”
The case also comes amid a debate in the country about mistreatment of young girls and women in Pakistan. Earlier this year, three teenage girls were buried alive by their tribe in a remote part of Pakistan to punish them for attempting to choose their own husbands, in an “honour” killing case.
After news of the deaths emerged, male politicians from their province, Baluchistan, defended the September killings in parliament, claiming the practice was part of “our tribal custom”. The girls, thought to have been aged between 16 and 18, were kidnapped by a group of men from their Umrani tribe, several reports said. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).