Meet Kajal Bheel
Forced marriages and conversions in Pakistan
Kajal Bheel – a 12 year old Hindu girl from the Matiari District in Pakistan - now known as Saira Fatima, was kidnapped, forcefully converted and married to a man twice her age.
In the night of October 21st, Kajal Bheel was sleeping at home with her two brothers, while her parents and the third brother were away for the evening at a nearby village. At 3:00 A.M. two men entered the house, threatening Kajal and her brothers at gunpoint, and then left, taking Kajal with them.
It was only upon their return that Kajal’s parents found out what had happened. They immediately rushed to notify the police of the abduction of their daughter. Yet, the police refused to fill out a report. Acting as though nothing serious had happened, they said they were not able to do anything.
In the midst of figuring out what to do next, Kajal’s parents received an anonymous phone call saying that their 12-year old daughter had been forced into marriage and converted to Islam. Later that day, they met up with an unknown person at the local court, who presented them with official documents confirming this information. From this point on Kajal Bheel was no longer officially Kajal Bheel or Mr. and Mrs. Bheel’s daughter. Kajal is now known as Saira Fatima, an Muslim woman who is married to Muneer Dars. Her childhood has been stolen from her.
On November 17, Kajal stated that both the conversion and the marriage had happened of her own free will. Kajal’s parents believe that their 12-year old daughter was forced to accept the conversion and marriage because of the threats to her and her family’s safety.
However, according to Pakistani law, specifically Sindh province legislation, it is illegal to marry a girl under the age of 18 as she is considered a minor. The religious institute under which Kajal was married and converted did not require any proof of her age. That is why proving her age is the only way for Kajal’s parents to get their daughter back at this point.
In order to do that, on November 17th Mr. and Mrs. Bheel presented Kajal’s birth certificate to the judge during the High Court hearing. The document, issued by the Sindh province authorities in 2002, clearly states that she is 12 years old. This, however, was deemed not enough; the court concluded Kajal should be subjected to a humiliating and potentially painful medical exam to prove her age. Kajal’s parents were deeply concerned at the prospect of such an examination and whether the results would represent the truth as opposed to being a tool to falsify her real age. Not surprisingly, the results of the medical examination presented to the High Court on November 20th showed that Kajal was in fact 17. Still a minor under Pakistani Law, Kajal is now considered an adult under the Sharia law, which the judge chose to apply in this case.
Unless Kajal’s family is able to present evidence that she is a minor under the Hindu Family Law, Kajal’s case will be closed and disregarded as yet another injustice done to Pakistan’s minority community. Kajal’s parents are bound to wait for the next court hearing on December 4th to see if their daughter will be coming home.
Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) condemns the way Kajal’s case is being handled by the police and the court. Consistent with the pattern of forced marriages and religious conversion, the case demonstrates the neglect of women’s rights and the violation of their dignity in the case of minority groups. We strongly advise the Pakistani government to take the necessary steps in ensuring the safe return of Kajal to her family while moving towards prosecuting those involved in the barbaric acts described in this article.
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Let Kajal be a child