A Catholic girl who was kidnapped and forced to marry a Muslim man in Pakistan is seeking asylum in the United Kingdom with the help of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The international Catholic pastoral aid organization is asking British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to grant asylum to Maira Shahbaz, who was 14 years old when she was kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam last year.
Shahbaz was reportedly raped then forced by the Lahore High Court to marry one of her abductors.
A report from the Catholic news site Crux said Shahbaz is one of an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls who are kidnapped, forced to convert and marry their captors in Pakistan each year.
She managed to escape her captors, but after receiving a series of death threats, both her and her family were forced to go into hiding.
ACN last week sent a petition signed by over 12,000 people to Fiona Bruce, the UK prime minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, calling for asylum for Shahbaz.
In a statement released after presenting the petition, ACN quoted Bruce saying Maira Shahbaz’s situation, and that of her family, “is a tragic one and hearts goes out to her.”
The asylum petition was organized by ACN as part of its “Red Wednesday” campaign that draws attention to religious persecution around the world.
Shahbaz managed to escape from her 28-year-old abductor identified as Mohamad Nakash.
On April 28, Shahbaz was abducted at gunpoint and forced to marry Nakash in the Faisalabad district in Punjab province.
Nakash presented a fake marriage certificate, dated Oct. 25, 2019, claiming that the girl was already 19 years of age at the time of the alleged marriage and that she consented to the union.
On July 28, the Faisalabad District and Session Court dismissed Nakask’s claims and ordered the removal of the girl from the abductor’s home.
The court also ruled that Shahbaz must remain under the care of Dar ul Aman, a women’s shelter home.
The Lahore High Court, however, overturned the decision of the lower court on Aug. 4, ruling in favor of Nakash.
The court’s decision stated that the Christian girl had willingly converted to Islam and consented to her marriage.
It dismissed the evidence supporting the claim that the girl was a minor. It also did not recognize the statements of eyewitnesses.
The high court ordered Shahbaz to return to her abductor and instructed the girl to “be a good wife.”
Open Doors International, a Christian human rights organization, noted in a recent report that Christians in Pakistan face extreme persecution in every area of their lives, with believers who have converted from Islam facing the greatest levels of persecution, but with all Christians being considered second-class citizens.