Laiba Sohail, an 11-year-old Christian girl abducted from her home in Faisalabad, Punjab, has drawn significant attention to the widespread violations of the Child Marriage Restraint Act and the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. Kidnapped on February 11, 2024, Laiba was forcibly converted to Islam and married off to her abductor. Her case underscores the severe plight faced by Christian and Hindu communities in the country.

Laiba, born on October 15, 2013, to Sohail Masih and Balqees Bibi, is the youngest of their three children. The family resides in Ikhlaq Town, Faisalabad. On the night of her abduction, Sohail and Balqees, both diabetic, had gone to bed early after taking their medication. When they woke up, their daughter was missing. The abductors had climbed the boundary wall and taken Laiba, threatening to kill her if she made any noise.

The following morning, the family rushed to the Roshan Wala police station to file a First Information Report under section 365B. Despite their tireless efforts and considerable expenses, including staging sit-ins and meeting with police officials, their pursuit of justice has yielded no results. The family received support from various organizations, and Minority Senator Khalil Tahir Sindhu also intervened, urging the police to recover Laiba swiftly.

Laiba’s abduction involved their neighbours, Irfan and Khurram, who, along with other family members, handed her over to a Muslim man. She was taken to a shelter home in Faisalabad, where she was converted to Islam and married to her abductor. Sohail Masih recounted his desperate attempts to contact his daughter through a person who facilitated her movement between the shelter home, courts, and police stations, enabling her conversion and marriage.
When Laiba was finally recovered by the police, she refused to return home. Clad in Islamic dress, she told her father to stop following her. Sohail described her as a good girl who attended school and never spoke ill of anyone. The family believes she is being threatened and forced to give such statements, leaving them heartbroken.

Laiba’s abduction and forced marriage are part of a disturbing trend affecting Christian and Hindu communities in Pakistan. Young girls are kidnapped, converted, and married to their abductors, who are often much older and sometimes already married with children. These acts are in direct violation of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which sets the legal marriage age for girls at 16. However, enforcement of this law is lax, and victims seldom receive justice.

Christians in Pakistan increasingly feel unsafe, as they are not receiving justice from either the courts or law enforcement agencies. The Pakistani government must urgently address this serious matter and stop the ongoing persecution of Christian and Hindu underage girls.

In their desperation, Sohail and Balqees considered self-immolation in front of the police station but were stopped by friends and supporters. Laiba’s uncle, Javed Masih, expressed his anguish, noting that Laiba was a dutiful child, and the family had no idea what had been indoctrinated into her by her abductors.

Javed mentioned that despite the kidnappers’ claims of ignorance about Laiba’s whereabouts, the family traced her to Roshanwala village, only to find out that she had already been married and converted to Islam. He appealed to the Christian community for prayers and support to bring Laiba back home, emphasizing that an 11-year-old cannot legally or willingly convert and marry.

Balqees Bibi, in poor health and overwhelmed with grief, pleaded with Mariam Nawaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab, to ensure the safe return of her daughter. She was unable to speak clearly due to her distress, constantly weeping as she recounted her ordeal.

This tragic case underscores the urgent need for stronger enforcement of child protection laws and greater support for victims of such heinous crimes. The plight of Laiba Sohail and her family calls for immediate attention and action to protect the rights and lives of religious minorities in Pakistan.