A court in Pakistan has ruled that a 12-year-old Christian girl who was kidnapped and forced to marry a 45-year-old man can return home to her family.
In what Christian religious freedom charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) calls a stunning court victory, Faisalabad District and Sessions Court ruled on Tuesday that Farah Shaheen (pictured above) should be allowed to return to her father and siblings.
The court declared that her marriage to 45-year-old Khizar Ahmed Ali (Hayat) was invalid as it had not been registered with the local authorities.
With an official birth certificate showing Farah to be 12 as evidence, Judge Rana Masood Akhtar ordered that medical tests requested by the court giving her age as 16 or 17 were inconclusive.
Farrah's dire situation was brought to court after police discovered her last December in Ali's home with wounds to her hands and feet.
The girl said that she had been attached to a chain, shackled hand and foot and that Ali had forced her to work from dawn to dusk cleaning filth in a cattle yard.
Farah was taken to a women's shelter in Faisalabad while the court heard a petition from her father, Asif Masih, for her to return home.
Bishop Iftikhar Indryas, who spearheaded the campaign for Farah to be reunited with her father, told ACN: "Praise be Jesus Christ, mighty to save. Our little angel Farah is back home."
He described how Farah broke down in tears when she heard the news and there were cries of "Alleluia" from family members.
She has now been reunited with her five siblings, her father and grandfather. She lost her mother four years ago.
ACN said Farah's plight made headlines around the world amid reports that police had botched an investigation to discover her whereabouts after her father reported her disappearance in June 2020.
Anger at police failure to act was made worse by widespread outrage at the medical report commissioned by the court after Farah had been recovered.
Friends and family of the girl said the report exaggerated Farah's age, "fabricating" evidence from studies of her genitalia, teeth and bones.
The family described how Farah was severely traumatised by her experience at her abductor's home and for a time was unable to speak However, she's eventually been able to give an account of what happened to her and in the meantime, the wounds to her hands and feet caused by the shackles and chains have gradually healed.
According to The Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan, every year up to 1,000 female Christians and Hindus aged between 12 and 25 are abducted by Muslim men, with forced marriage and conversion being commonplace as well as gang rape, trafficking and forced labour.
Bishop Indryas said: "Once and for all, Pakistan must end the forced conversion of our girls.
"Girls from Christian and other minority faith backgrounds are especially badly affected and it is time the government brought this evil to an end."
Fiona Bruce MP, the UK Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief earlier this month received a 12,000-signature ACN petition calling for UK asylum for Maira Shahbaz, another young Christian from Pakistan, forcibly married and converted aged 14 and now receiving constant death threats.
Bruce has brought the matter to the "urgent" attention of Home Secretary Priti Patel.