Hours after Dua Zehra — the teenage girl who went missing from Karachi's Shah Faisal Colony last week — was recovered from Okara on Tuesday, a Lahore court turned down police's request to send her to Darul Aman and allowed her to go "wherever she wants".
Following her recovery, Dua was presented in the Model Town Court before Judicial Magistrate Tasawar Iqbal to record her statement.
The police requested the judge to send Dua to Darul Aman for her "security" while the girl asked for time before recording her statement.
In her statement, she said that she was "sane" and claimed to be 18, adding that she had come to Lahore from Karachi of her own "free will and no one had abducted me". She said she did not want to go to Darul Aman as she felt there was no danger to her life. Dua asked the judge to dismiss the police request.
Subsequently, the judge ordered that Dua be "allowed where ever she wanted to go and be set at liberty from the premises of the court as desired by her to go where ever she wants to". The court order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said she was "sui juris" (of age) and could not be forced to go to Darul Aman against her will.
The Punjab police had earlier said to have recovered Dua along with Zaheer Ahmad — the man who is said to have contracted marriage with her. According to the Lahore police spokesperson, the two were taken to the Okara District Police Office where their statements were recorded. They would then be moved to Lahore in police protection.
"We have been in touch with the Karachi police and have informed them about the recent development," the spokesman added.
The chief of Karachi's Anti-Violent Crime Cell (AVCC), SSP Zubair Nazeer Shaikh, said that a team led by Inspector Saeed Thaheem was on its way to Lahore.
The senior police officer said Dua was expected to appear before a court in Lahore to record her statement.
On April 16, Dua's parents filed a first information report (FIR) alleging that their daughter had been kidnapped when she left the house to dispose some garbage. The incident had provoked an outcry, specially on social media, which had prompted authorities to take notice.
On Monday, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah revealed in a press conference that Dua's location had been traced but did not provide further details as he said the matter was “sensitive”.
Teenager says she married out of 'free will'
Meanwhile, in a video statement earlier in the day, Dua said that she wasn't kidnapped and had married Zaheer out of "free will".
The 13-year-old girl said that she had left her house of her own accord. "I have married out of free will. No one forced me. I'm happy with my husband here. For God's sake, don't bother me," she stated.
While the minimum age for marriage under the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act is set at 16 for girls and 18 for boys, under the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2013, nobody below the age of 18 can contract a marriage in the province.
Dua claimed that her parents were forcing her to marry someone else and frequently "beat her up". "No one has kidnapped me. I have come here out of choice and didn't bring any valuables along with me," she said.
Dua added that her parents were lying about her age. "I am an adult. My age is 18 [years], not 14 [years]." However, official documents shown to media by her father revealed she will turn 14 on April 27 (tomorrow).
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the girl and Zaheer approached the Lahore district and sessions court and filed a petition against Dua's father and cousin.
It stated that the respondents "forcibly entered her house [where she was living with Zaheer in Lahore]" on April 18 and tried to "kidnap" her.
"... Due to hue and cry, people of the locality gathered there and rescued me from the clutches of the respondents," the petition stated.
It added that her father and cousin ran away after extending "threats of dire circumstances to me and my husband".
Dua said in her application that the "respondents" had committed a "heinous offence" but the police wasn't recording her version. "Therefore, the accused may kindly be summoned and punished as per law," she added.
Dua forced to issue statement: father
On the other hand, Dua's parents are adamant that their daughter had been kidnapped. At a press conference on Tuesday, her father said that "marrying an underage child comes under the section of kidnapping".
"On April 18, I was here in Karachi and was in contact with the police and security agencies. We never went anywhere," he said, referring to Dua's petition. "Had I known her location, I would have directly given it to the police."
"... They picked up our daughter and are now forcing her to issue these statements. I request everyone to bring the child to Karachi ... Don't hand her over to me. She should be sent to a child protection bureau and an investigation should be initiated there," he demanded.
Dua's father also showed her birth certificate at the press conference, according to which, her age was 13 years and 11 months. "It hasn't even been 18 years to my marriage. How's it possible that my daughter would be 18 years old?" he asked.
He added that his daughter was being "influenced" and demanded that the case be handed over to the Sindh police.
Meanwhile, a senior officer of the Lahore police confirmed to Dawn that Zaheer contracted marriage with Dua and the two went underground after their nikahnama was uploaded on social media.
A copy of the nikahnama reached the Lahore police, showing that Zaheer Ahmad of Sher Shah Colony, Raiwind, Lahore, married Dua on April 17.
The marriage certificate showed the girl’s age as 18 and the boy’s age as 22. The Nikah ceremony was held in the Union Council/Town of Babu Sabu of Sherakot.
Nikah Khawan/Nikah Registrar Hafiz Ghulam Mustafa of Mozang Road, Lahore, performed the Nikah while two people, including Shabbir Ahmad of Sher Shah Colony and Asghar Ali of district Okara, signed as witnesses. According to the marriage certificate, Rs5,000 had been set as Haq Mehar which was paid at the time of the Nikah ceremony. The previous status of the newly married couple showed ‘unmarried’.
A few relatives of the groom attended the ceremony, but no one from the bride’s side was present, while she was listed as an “adult” on the nikahnama.
Sharing the results of initial investigations into the case, a Lahore police official said the couple had become friends on social media and were regularly speaking to each other for hours.
Quoting his colleague, serving in Karachi, who was also investigating the same case, the official said police found some important evidence from a home-based internet device of the girl, including her search history for a “marriage of choice”.
He said the girl might have been sent a proposal by the boy living in Lahore, prompting her to leave her parents’ home.
The police official said a team had raided the residence of the groom in Sher Shah Colony on Wednesday, but the couple had already left.
Police also approached the boy’s family members who refused to cooperate, he said, adding that the mobile phones of both of them were found switched off.
He said other persons of interest, including the Nikah Khawan and witnesses, had also disappeared to avoid arrest.
In reply a question, the police official said that under the Punjab Marriage Restraint Act, any adult who marries a child, defined as a boy under 18 years of age and a girl under 16, can be punished with imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of Rs50,000.
“The same punishment will apply to a Nikah Registrar who solemnises or conducts a marriage between two children, or a marriage of an adult with a child,” he added.
Additionally, the police official said, the parents or guardians of either party will be punished if they facilitate or organise the marriage of a minor (anyone under the age of 18) or a child.
“The parents and/or guardians will be punished with imprisonment of up to six months and a fine of Rs50,000,” he said.
Additional input by Imtiaz Ali