By Jawad Mazhar, Worthy News Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (Worthy News) -- Christian rights activists were hopeful Wednesday, March 11, that they would be able to "free" a Christian teenager who was allegedly abducted by a Muslim man last year in Pakistan's Punjab province, and forced to marry him.
Advocacy group ‘Christian Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement’ (CLAAS) told Worthy News and its partner news agency BosNewsLife that a local court has ordered police to launch a criminal investigation against the abductors of 13-year-old Saba Younis and her sister, Anila Younis, 10.
Anila was recently allowed to return to her parents after several hearings initiated by CLAAS, but Saba remains with her Muslim husband Amjad Ali after telling a court she had embraced Islam.
CLAAS investigators believe Saba made the declaration under duress and have argued that marrying a 13-year-old girl is illegal in Pakistan. Her age was apparently "changed" into 17 during court procedures.
Saba and her younger sister were reportedly abducted from their village of Chak Munda in southern Punjab on June 26 while visiting an uncle.
Two Muslim men, identified as Muhammad Arif Bajwa and Muhammad Arif Ashraf allegedly offered to drive them to their uncle’s home, but instead brought them to another location where the girls were forced to "recant Christianity", said CLAAS Chief Joseph Francis, who also runs the Pakistan Christian National Party.
Anila has reportedly disclosed that one of the suspects has links with groups involved in human trafficking, especially girls.
Local police initially refused to support the girls' mother Ruth Rukhsana and their father Younis Masih, an impoverished Christian worker, in their efforts to find the abducters and release the children, CLAAS said.
However amid pressure from rights investigators attitudes changed. "We have secured the release of one of the two girls and by the grace of Jesus Christ we will successfully set free the other girl," Francis said. He said he has appealed "to the Christian worldwide to pray for Saba who is in the hands of Muslim men."
This is no isolated case. There have been reports of kidnappings of several Christian women and girls in Pakistan. Among several incidents in January, news emerged that police freed two Christian teenage girls who were kidnapped, sold to other men as sex slaves, and forced into Islam by two radical Muslims.
Last month a 13-year old impoverished Christian girl in Pakistan's Punjab province was recovering after she was gang raped at gun point by five Islamic extremists, her family told BosNewsLife.
Family members, speaking on condition that the girl's name would not be identified, said the incident happened February 7 in a village of the Sangla Hill area when she went out to dump trash and relief herself, as most Pakistani villages have no toilets at home. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).