Christian Girl Kidnapped, Forcibly Converted to Islam

Christian Girl Kidnapped, Forcibly Converted to Islam

LAHORE, Pakistan, March 11, 2024 (Christian Daily International–Morning Star News) – The Christian parents of a 10-year-old girl in Pakistan who was abducted and forcibly converted to Islam last month fear she could be sold to sex traffickers, sources said.

A month after Laiba Suhail was abducted from her home in Chak 233-RB Ikhlaq Town, Faisalabad District, Punjab Province on Feb. 12 by four non-Muslims at the behest of a Muslim, Shaukat Shah, officials have refused to prosecute, said her father, Suhail Masih.

Shah is well-known in the area for forcibly converting children to Islam under duress, coercing them to file court statements that they willfully converted and later taking them from shelter homes on the pretext of giving them religious education, Masih said.

A court sent his daughter to a women’s shelter at her request after police on Feb. 15 informed Masih that she had filed an application claiming she had converted to Islam. Masih said that he has learned that Shah has taken custody of her from the shelter.

“This is Shah’s modus operandi,” Masih told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “No one knows what happens to his victims after they are handed to him. We fear that he and his accomplices are involved in sex trafficking, and they sell these minor girls when they see that the families are in no position to pursue the matter further in courts.”

He lamented that the Roshan Wala Police Station has not taken action to recover his daughter despite the family’s registration of an abduction case against Shah.

“On Feb. 15, police informed us that an application had been filed by Laiba in the court of a magistrate in which she had claimed that she had converted to Islam of her own free will ‘after being impressed with Islamic teachings,’” Masih said. “We immediately went to the court where we saw our minor daughter surrounded by several policemen. We were not allowed to talk to her despite our repeated requests. The police later presented her before the magistrate where she reportedly repeated the contents of the application. She also sought to be sent to the Dar Ul Aman [women’s shelter], which the magistrate admitted.”

Masih said that the family looked on helplessly as Shah and police took his daughter to the shelter.

“We could not do anything after Laiba’s statement before the court, which I believe was extracted under duress,” he said. “We were not given any opportunity to ask her under what circumstances she was forced to give this statement.”

Masih questioned how a 10-year-old girl could convert to Islam willingly when she did not even have basic education, let alone a religious one.

“It is a blatant lie that my daughter has changed her faith willingly,” he said. “Whatever little religious education she has is from the church’s Sunday school. She has had no interaction with Muslims, because she used to stay at home all day long to take care of me and her mother.”

Masih, a member of the Church of Pakistan, is crippled in both legs, and neither he nor his wife are able to work due to health problems, he said.

Christian attorney Sumera Shafique told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News that the impoverished family should immediately file a motion with the high court for the recovery of Laiba. The family has yet to find an attorney to help them.

“Laiba’s case is yet another example of how sharia [Islamic law] is invoked to undermine the age of a minor,” Shafique said. “In her statement before the magistrate, the girl claimed that she’s an adult, but her official birth document states her age is 10 years and two months.”

The attorney has recovered several Christian children who were victims of forced conversion and forced marriages, including Maira Shahbaz, who was kidnapped and forcibly converted in 2020.

Shafique said she regretted that victim families, who are often illiterate and poor, are used by local activists for their own self-interests, which damages the cases and results in prolonged delays in recovery of abducted girls.

“The victim families should immediately seek legal help instead of turning to touts who are focused only on making money from their plight,” she said. “In this case, a month has passed, but the family has reportedly not been able to meet their daughter even once.”

A habeas corpus petition must be filed immediately in the Lahore High Court, she said.

“The child is hardly 10 years old, and I believe the high court will take her conversion matter very seriously,” she said, adding that timely legal intervention could help save the girl from further sexual exploitation.

Masih said four non-Muslims working for Shah – Irfan Masih, Khurram Masih, Aneeqa Masih and Grace Masih – abducted Laiba from his home around midnight while the family was asleep.

“After my daughter’s abduction, we came to know that this gang was also involved in several other incidents of abduction and forced conversions of minor Christian girls in Faisalabad,” he said. “They have managed to evade legal action due to the influence of Shaukat Shah, who is notorious for carrying out religious conversions of minor girls.”

The 55-year-old Christian said his oldest son, who is 25, is a daily wage laborer who is sole breadwinner for the family. Laiba is the youngest of his three children and was born 12 years after his second child.

“I had to pull Laiba out of school early on because we were not able to afford her education due to our meagre financial resources,” he said.

Masih said he is determined to rescue his daughter at all costs.

“I appeal to the Christian leadership to step forward and help me in saving my minor daughter,” he said. “She’s just a child who has fallen victim to these predators masking themselves as religious leaders.”

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.