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Religious freedom | Reeha Saleem: Pakistan

Abducted 16-year-old fights for justice after forced marriage

#EndForcedMarriage

Topic | Persecution, Freedom of Religion

Christian girl Reeha Saleem was 16 years old and a student of grade 8 when she was abducted by her Muslim neighbour Muhammad Abbas. This occured on her way home from school in the Gujrat district of Pakistan on November 13, 2019.

“It was raining heavily so I had to take a rickshaw back home. I was on my way when Abbas and three of his friends forced me out of my ride and into their own rickshaw. They threatened to kill me if I refused. I was scared and confused,” says Reeha, now 19.

According to the victim, the four men took her to an unknown location and forced her thumbprints on a piece of paper.

“They told me they would burn my face with acid if I didn’t do as they said. It was later when I was told that I had signed my faith away and was now married to Abbas…my neighbour who had been harassing me and making sexual advances towards me for a long time.”

Case summary

Converted to Islam and forcibly married, Reeha was kept in captivity and raped by her abductor/husband and his friends for over two months. Marital rape has not been criminalised in Pakistan to date.

“I was forced into marriage by my abductors. They used to rape me, beat me up, and keep me locked inside a room. We used to travel but I do not know any of the cities they took me to,” Reeha recalls. She adds that the abuse continued until she managed to escape and reunite with her mother Parveen Saleem.

She managed to flee from captivity through a door her abductors accidentally left unlocked while they were busy with some guests. “I ran as fast as I could and found a man who helped me get a rickshaw as there were none close to the house I was kept in. He also gave me his phone so that I could call my mother.”

Reeha must, however, continually brave her horrors amid constant threats hurled at her single mother and younger brother by Abbas and his accomplices.

“I want to be able to leave the house like a normal 19-year-old. I want to study and continue my education like other women my age; they say they will kill me or throw acid at my face whenever they see me again,” she says.

While the threats haven’t kept Reeha from pursuing a higher secondary certificate through evening schools, Parveen says she fears for the lives of her daughter and younger son every day.

ADF International has intervened in the case and is supporting the family’s lawyer, Advocate Sumera Shafique in her efforts to annul Reeha’s Islamic marriage.

“Reeha was of age according to provincial child marriage laws, however, she is not the legal wife of Abbas since she was abducted, forced into converting her religion, and signing the marriage certificate. We have moved the court for jactitation of the marriage on these grounds,” says Shafique.

“It is unfortunate that [the] Contracts Act declares any person under the age of 18 as a minor but a girl as young as 16 can enter a marriage contract in Punjab.”

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