Arif Gill said he lost hope of finding his 15-year-old daughter — allegedly abducted by a 60-year-old Muslim who forcibly married her and converted her to Islam — until police in Pakistan finally registered a case after nearly two months.
Sitara Arif, also known as Saira, was reportedly kidnapped Dec. 15, Morning Star News reported.
“I went to the police station to report my daughter’s kidnapping, but they refused to accept my complaint and forced me out of the building,” said Gill, who is Catholic.
He said he made repeated attempts to register a case, with police ignoring his initial pleas.
Gill’s lawyer, Akmal Bhatti, chairman of the Minorities Alliance Pakistan, said he learned of Gill’s ordeal on Feb. 3 and immediately arranged for the family to meet with authorities. Bhatti said when police raided the house of the accused, they were handed an Islamic marriage certificate.
Though police are now acting, unfortunately the family is deprived of justice because they are poor and Christian, Bhatti said.
“If the police had acted when the crime was first reported, the child could have been recovered sooner, but the prolonged delay has given the accused ample time to change his locations,” he explained. “Some sources have told us that the accused has taken Sitara to Islamabad, and we are now pressing the police to find them there.”
Bhatti said only young girls from minority groups are targeted for forcible marriage and conversion because their families are generally poor, with few resources to put up a fight in court.
Forced conversions and underage marriages are a long-standing issue in Pakistan.
At least 1,000 women from religious minorities, including Christians and Hindus, are forcibly converted and married annually in the country, Forbes magazine reported in February 2021, quoting human rights organizations.
Although Pakistan dismissed the report as “rubbish and baseless,” Forbes said the actual numbers could be higher as many cases go unreported.
Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.