The father of Monica, a 12-year-old Christian girl from Lahore who was kidnapped and “married” to a Muslim man in August, has died. Following a telephone conversation with his daughter’s abductor, in which the man challenged the family to withdraw their court case against him, Monica’s father succumbed to stress and died. He leaves behind his wife, his son and two daughters, including Monica. He had managed to speak to Monica by phone since her abduction; she apparently claimed that she did not want to return home, although it is not known if this was said under duress.
Speaking with Barnabas Fund, legal representatives for the family confirmed that the case against Monica’s abductor is still ongoing, but that at the time of writing no date has yet been set for a second court hearing. At the first hearing on 3 October, the judge ordered that Monica herself should appear in court after the man charged with kidnapping her produced a marriage certificate claiming that she was 18, although the family were able to submit her birth certificate stating Monica’s true age.
Girls are permitted to be married at the age of 16 in Pakistan. Child marriages are still common in some parts of the country and an estimated 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18. A bill to raise the marriageable age to 18, in line with that for boys, and introduce a prison sentence of two years for those found guilty of organising child marriages, was introduced in Pakistan’s parliament earlier this year. However, the bill was rejected at committee stage after Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology, which advises Parliament on the compatibility of laws with sharia, deemed the proposed legislation “un-Islamic”. The Council argued that, according to sharia, there is no minimum age for marriage and that a girl can be married when she reaches puberty.