According to the Lahore High Court, Nayab Gill is 19. But her birth certificate says she is 13.
by Massimo Introvigne
The story of Nayab Gill is sad and disturbing, but there is a risk it is told incorrectly. Nayab is a girl from a Roman Catholic family in Gujranwala Division in Punjab. Her parents complained that she was forcibly converted to Islam and married to 30-year-old Saddam Hussain Hayat, as his fourth wife, on May 20, 2021. Nayab, the parents claim, is 13, and the law in Punjab forbids both conversion of minors who are not mature enough to decide and marriage before 16.
On July 1, the Lahore High Court declared both the conversion and the marriage valid, relying on the fact that both on the conversion and marriage certificates Nayab’s age is indicated as 19, and the girl confirmed in court that 19 is her real age. She also claimed she converted and married of her own will.
Since she first converted and then married, the court also observes that conversion made sharia law applicable to Nayab, and sharia allows girls who have had her first period, as Nayab did, to marry irrespective of the age.
Some Christian media have reported the case as an “abduction,” and kidnapping and marrying girls from religious minorities is unfortunately a frequent occurrence in Pakistan. However, the case of Nayab is different. According to her parents, she lost her job in a salon due to economic crisis and went to work for Saddam, who promised to treat her like one of his daughters. But she then became interested in Saddam, who gave her gifts, and did everything possible to interest her in Islam as well.
The abduction narrative should thus be qualified in this case. The crux of the problem is what is Nayab’s real age. According to Lord David Alton, a leading expert of international human rights who has protested against the decision on his Twitter account, the birth certificate of Nayab, with the birth date indicated as October 16, 2007 (meaning she is 13) is a genuine document, and should have prevailed against Nayab’s oral statements. Saddam’s lawyers did not present any document to counter the birth certificate.
Laws that prevent religious conversions of young minors and marriage before 16 are intended to protect Punjab women in a situation where the human rights of those belonging to religious minorities are at risk daily.
We cannot rule out that the young girl really became infatuated with her employer, and was willing to change her religion to marry him. However, the law protects vulnerable minor women even against themselves. The Lahore High Court was certainly too quick, and perhaps motivated by religious prejudice, in making Nayaf’s statements prevail against the clear evidence of the birth certificate.