No Justice For Minorities: Court Sends 12-Year-Old Zarvia Back With Abductor

No Justice For Minorities: Court Sends 12-Year-Old Zarvia Back With Abductor
The country had barely recovered from the high profile Dua Zehra case, when another incident of forced abduction and child marriage emerged, in the shape of a 12-year-old Christian girl named Zarvia Parvez. Drugged and abducted by a husband and wife duo, and forced to convert to Islam and marry her 40-year-old abductor, Zarvia has been missing for the past three months.

On Thursday morning, Justice Sadaqat Ali Khan of the Rawalpindi Bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the case filed by Zarvia's parents after hearing the case for a mere minute and thirty seconds before declaring, "The girl is 12, she is married, and she did it out of her free will,". Then, refusing to hear the evidence brought forward by Zarvia's parents, he tossed the file to the side, and left the courtroom.

The facts of the case

Zarvia's parents, Yasmeen Parvez and Parvez Masih had opened up their house to a Muslim couple, Imran and Adiba, with three young children, as they had no shelter or money. Zarvia's older brother had known Imran as they had both worked as unionists. 40-year-old Imran was physically abusive towards his wife Adiba as well as his children, and Yasmeen frequently had to physically intervene to get them to stop. Eventually, for this reason, Zarvia's parents evicted Imran and Adiba.

Four days later, on the 30th of April 2022, Adiba showed up outside Zarvia's house, and convinced the child to accompany her to purchase a Mother's Day present for Yasmeen. Adiba insisted that Zarvia's parents knew about the trip, in a bid to gain Zarvia's trust, who had been asking to call them to confirm.

Zarvia's parents filed a police report on the evening of the kidnapping, and an FIR was lodged on May 1st. The same day as the kidnapping, Imran sent a WhatsApp voice message to Zarvia's parents confessing the child was with him, and asking the parents to stop hounding his relatives, as this was done only by him. He claimed that he was at Kalarkahar at that moment, and instructed the parents to direct all future conversations regarding the matter to him only.

The child was then taken to Faisalabad, but was brought back a week after, as her parents had petitioned the court for her recovery. She was found hidden behind the store room of a brick kiln, along with Imran and Adiba. When Imran and Adiba were taken into police custody, Zarvia —despite being a minor— was not sent to a children's shelter home for the night, but was instead kept in the women's police station in Rawalpindi in the same cell as Adiba.

Legal battles

During the hearing, the court took her testimony without granting her legal counsel, and also accepted her refusal of the medical examination which is mandatory for suspected victims of kidnapping and trafficking, especially if they are minors. The court further also failed to look at the supporting documents provided by Zarvia's parent's legal team, including birth certificates, church registration documents and school certifications, which confirmed her age as 12. Instead, they accepted the statement Zarvia provided under duress, stating that she was 14 and had done her matriculation, even though she was only in the fourth grade. The nikahnama provided by Imran's counsel after Zarvia was forced to convert to Islam was also submitted and accepted by the court.

Sherkan Malik, who is a member of Zarvia's parent's legal team, shared with The Friday Times recordings of a call between Zarvia and her older brother after her abduction. In the call, the brother Abraham asks her if the abductors have beat her, to which she says no, but adds that they have tried to pressurize her. When he asks how they are pressurizing her, she says, "They are saying I have to do as they say otherwise they will kill my brothers."

Sherkan says that despite all relevant evidence being brought forward to the police, the police recommended 'no charges' to the court, and therefore on May 14th, the kidnappers were discharged, and the child was sent back with Imran and Adiba. "Discharge does not mean acquittal," explains Sherkan, "So they were not acquitted of the charges." He says that the police were told that if they have any other evidence they could reopen the investigation and charge the kidnappers at any time. "However, despite our repeated requests, they have refused," he said.

Since May 14, Imran's phone has been powered off and there has been no contact between Zarvia's parents and her, leaving them to question if she is even alive. Their case was supposed to be heard by the Rawalpindi bench of the Lahore High Court on Monday August 16, but was postponed to Thursday, as the court had not yet registered the case. When the kidnapped girl's parents finally approached the court on Thursday, after nearly three months of not knowing where their daughter was, their case was dismissed in under two minutes. The judge refused to look at any of the evidence they brought forward, and simply said that 12-year-old Zarvia had married 40-year-old Imran of her 'free will'.

"The judge told us that since the girl had already recorded her statement, this was now just a frivolous case, and there was nothing more they could do," says Sherkan, adding that the judge also asked them to observe the precedent in the Dua Zehra case and claimed that as per that precedent, they were approaching the wrong forum. "This makes no sense, because the Dua Zehra case was also being heard by a High Court," Sherkan explained.

How many times more will this happen?

The legal age for marriage in Punjab is 16. Even if Zarvia really was 14, she was still a minor, and therefore still not eligible for marriage, making this a case of child abduction and potentially rape. The double standards exhibited by the 'free will' justifications is maddening: women have no free will when it comes to any other aspect of their lives, and are actively judged, criticized and condemned for showing the slightest agency over their lives. However when it comes to a minor child marrying a significantly older man, suddenly all laws are forgotten and it becomes a matter of free will. Our judicial systems and our authorities must give precedence to the law when it comes to cases of potential abduction. If the law does not allow anyone younger than 16 years of age to get married, who is the court to decide if Zarvia's, or any other child's marriage —free will or not— is legal?

Khadija Muzaffar is the culture editor at The Friday Times. Previously a Fulbright scholar at NYU, she enjoys writing about society, culture, music and food. She tweets at @khadijamuzaffar, but is far more interesting on Instagram.