The Rawalpindi Bench of the Lahore High Court, on the 18th of August 2022, decided that the marriage between the 12-year-old Christian girl Zarvia Pervaiz and the 40-year-old Imran is valid. Imran is an already married Muslim man of approximately 40 years old. The judge, Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan, heard the case for a mere two minutes and then stated that Zarvia was 12 years old and married out of her free will. He refused to take into account any other evidence. Petitioners left the courtroom shortly after that. During previous court statements, Zarvia had stated that she converted to Islam and married by choice to Imran Shahzad. Based on that statement the police led Zarvia go with Imran. The parents of Zarvia state that their daughter was abducted, forcefully converted, and married to Imran.
Previously, Zarvia had managed to make a phone call to her family and informed them that Imran threatened to kill her brothers if she would not state in court that her conversion and marriage was out of free will.
The Pakistani justice system ignored all laws against child marriage. It is likely that Imran and his wife are part of a sex trafficking ring for which they need young girls like Zarvia. We urge the government to reinvestigate the case.
Yasmeen Pervaiz, on the 13th of July 2022, filed a petition under 491 of Cr. PC. (Criminal Procedure Code) for the recovery of her daughter Zarvia Pervaiz from the illegal custody of Imran. Unfortunately, on the 18th of August 2022 Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan of the Rawalpindi Bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the case filed by Zarvia’s parents stating that the girl is 12 years old and is married out of free will. He did not want to take into account any other provided evidence and petitioner had to leave the courtroom shortly after.
Sherkan Malik, a human rights activist, confirmed that “state apparatuses tend to support those who commit crimes such as forced conversions, child marriages, and sexual violence because they believe they will receive a heavenly reward for helping convert someone to Islam, regardless of how intentional or coercive the conversion is.”
Nadia Stephen, a Christian activist with Voice for Justice, pointed out the failings of the judge, who validated the marriage despite Zarvia being a minor. The Rawalpindi court should have considered the ruling issued by the Islamabad High Court in February this year that “marriage of minors under the age of 18 is illegal, even if of their own free will.” The court order also violates the Child Marriage Law, which prohibits marriages to girls under the age of 16.
Human rights activists Ashiknaz Khokhar and Ilyas Samuel asked for a bill to amend the Child Marriage Restraint Act. It must be moved in the national and provincial legislative assemblies to ensure that the minimum marriageable age is set at 18 years for both boys and girls, and the marriage of minor children is declared null and void. As an interim measure, a hold should be placed on the validation of any marriages associated with faith conversions by the magistrates. It is necessary that verification or ascertaining of age, and freewill is required by senior civil judges in such cases.
The Chairperson of Voice for Justice, Joseph Jansen, said that forced marriages and the conversion of minors are harmful practices. Especially religious minorities are vulnerable since the conversion is used as a way to gain public support and to ensure the custody is moved away from the parents. Therefore, Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments must introduce comprehensive laws against forced conversions and child marriages in conformity with international human rights standards without any further delay.