By Francesca Merlo
38 year-old Catholic lawyer, Tabassum Yousaf, considers assisting persecuted Christians her mission, and a service to God and her Church. This is why she has not allowed the threats she has received to “stop her”, as she defends Huma Younus’ parents in their battle to get their daughter back.
Huma is a 14-year-old Christian girl from Zia Colony in Karachi, Pakistan. On the 10th of October, whilst her parents were out, she was abducted from her home and forced to convert and marry a Muslim man.
Though her parents received Huma’s conversion papers and marriage certificate - to a man named Abdul Jabar - the family are sure the papers are fake, due also to them being dated to the very same day the young girl went missing.
Recently, Huma’s abductor has threatened both her parents and their lawyer, Tabassum Yousaf, that he would accuse them of blasphemy. The High Court of Sindh lawyer has worked on many cases of forced marriage, and speaking with Aid to the Church in Need, she says that these threats are common. She explains that the abductors often say, “If you do not stop searching for your daughter, we will rip pages out of the Koran, place them on your doorstep, and accuse you of profaning the sacred book”.
Abduction in Pakistan
Abducting for the purpose of forced conversion and marriage is a major issue in Pakistan. Most of the victims are Christian or Hindu girls and young women - both religious minorities in the country - who are forced to wed against their will to much older Muslim men.
Of the 159 cases reported between 2013 and 2019, some 16 girls and young women have gone before the Sindh High Court asking for support against their forced marriages.
Tabassum Yousaf explains:
“Many Christians do not know that they have the same rights as Muslims. The poverty and lack of education of our brothers and sisters in faith allows Islamic fundamentalists to abuse their social, political, economic and religious powers to persecute Christians. And the judiciary is under strong pressure from political parties, which do not provide minorities with the right legal support”.
Aid from ACN
This is why the economic support provided by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is “fundamental”, she adds. With the charity covering costs, the family will be able to pay for an experienced Muslim lawyer, and, if necessary, take the case to the Supreme Court.
“And if we win and bring Huma home, such a sentence will also greatly help the many other Christian girls kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. But to do this we need international pressure, because despite our efforts to draw attention to the case, everything in Pakistan is at a standstill".
Pope and Prince
Just this month, Pope Francis dedicated part of his catechesis during a General Audience to the many Christians today who are “persecuted and marginalised”.
“Today in the world, in Europe,” the Pope pointed out, “many Christians are persecuted and they give their lives for their faith, or are persecuted with white gloves, that is, left aside, marginalized.”
“Martyrdom,” he stressed, “is the air of the life of a Christian, of a Christian community.”
Along with Pope Francis, offering his support this month is HRH the Prince of Wales. In a Christmas video message specifically aimed at persecuted Christians, Prince Charles highlights that, as Christmas is approaching, those “who carry the cross of suffering today” are held in his thoughts and prayers.