On Saturday, December 5th, 2020, police in Faisalabad, Pakistan, found 12-year-old Farah Shaheen chained in the home of Khizar Hayat. Five months earlier, Khizar had kidnapped her, taken her to the local mosque to be converted to Islam, and then forced her to marry him. According to police, the dark marks on her ankles indicated that she was chained for most of her time in captivity.
The family became concerned when Farah testified on January 23rd that she had converted and wed of her own free will. However, the lawyer representing Farah's family believes that her testimony was the result of being pressured by the staff of the shelter where she was staying after the rescue. Even though marriage is illegal at her age, and would constitute statutory rape, in many cases a falsified conversion certificate can influence the courts to pardon the involved kidnappers.
Despite any pressure placed on her, Farah finally came to the decision that she wanted to return to her family. In a February 16th court ruling, custody was given to her father, Asif Masih. The court further ruled that since the marriage was not legally registered, she could not be kept at the shelter indefinitely. Subsequently, Farah was returned to her family. Asif proclaimed, "She is deeply traumatized and fearful, but my child is very happy to be back in her family."
Though the kidnapper was taken into custody, he was released on bail. At last report, Khizar has not been formally charged for his crimes. As a result, Farah's safety remains a concern.
A bill has been proposed to the Pakistani government to help prevent forced religious conversions. This new law would require verification of conversion, including an interview. While the proposal is endorsed by many church leaders, similar bills have been used in other countries to prevent legitimate religious conversions. For more on the persecution facing Christians in Pakistan, go to our country report.
Please pray for the emotional healing of Farah, as well as her family. May God's loving presence fill their hearts with an overwhelming sense of peace, comfort and even joy as they recover from the traumatic event. Pray that Khizar will be held accountable for his actions and experience a dramatic transformation in his life. Ask God to also intervene in the government's upcoming decisions so that new laws will be passed to prevent other girls in Pakistan from experiencing similar incidences, and to ensure the protection of citizens who have legitimately converted to Christianity from Muslim backgrounds.