A teenage girl from district Umerkot in Sindh has reportedly 'disappeared' after allegedly being taken into police custody and handed over to a landlord, the girl's family claims.

According to police, a week ago on April 18, SHO Khushbakht of Umerkot women police station, reportedly raided the girl's house in Hashim Palli village and arrested five persons including three women over charges of involvement in child marriage.

Among those taken into custody was the 13-year-old girl — who was found wearing a bridal dress — to verify the case. However, the girl's family says she has since gone missing without a trace since then.

Meanwhile, Sindh Inspector General (IG) has taken notice of the incident, and a committee has been formed to recover the girl and uncover the truth. The committee comprises of DIG Mazhar Shaikh, SIP Khalil Kunbhar, and Lady SHO Khushbakht.

Meanwhile, the girl's parents have levelled allegations against police, saying that the girl was taken away under the false pretence of raiding a child marriage. They allege that police took her away at the instigation of local influentials having malicious intent.

The missing girl's family has accused police of handing over the girl to influential landlords Faiz Muhammad Palli, and Saifullah Palli, who, according to them, often abduct newly-wedded girls in connivance with the police.

Also read: How Pakistan is failing its child brides

On the other hand, landlord Faiz Muhammad Palli told Dawn that he learnt of a child marriage taking place and only wished to prevent its occurrence for which he informed the police.

He maintained that the girl's family is wrongly accusing him and were themselves to blame for deceiving everyone.

The landlord said the girl's family, in order to save their skins, were terming the ceremony as the girl's engagement and her brother's wedding when in reality the teenage girl was actually being married off.

He revealed that the girl was brought to the police station after being rescued and a statement of guarantee was signed by the parents and co-signed by him promising they won't marry her off before she turns 18.

Faiz alleged that the next day, the family reportedly slipped away from Hashim Palli village to Ghulam Nabi Shah village near Samaro which is located outside Umerkot police's jurisdiction. There, they went ahead and married her off as they originally intended.

He further alleged that the parents have hidden the girl and are framing charges against him in order to pressurise him to drop charges against the family in another case.

Editorial: Child marriage bill

According to Faiz, he had helped the Kohli community in rescuing a Hindu girl who was allegedly kidnapped and forcibly converted by relatives of the missing girl. The relatives were subsequently charged with the crime and have a case registered against them, scheduled to be heard at Sindh High Court.

He said this was all an 'act' by the girl's family "to pressurise him to withdraw from the Kolhi case and get revenge".

According to social activist Abdul Karim Mangrio, sale and marriage of underage girls in Umerkot is on the rise. A Child Marriage Restraint Act exists but is not being enforced.

He said that there were many instances in which people involved in child marriages in collusion with the police, would term the child marriage an engagement and save their skins from punishment.

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