The saga of Dua Zehra, a Karachi girl who was reported kidnapped in April and later discovered to have purportedly eloped in Punjab, has fuelled intense public interest.
The alleged abduction and elopement of the girl — whose parents insist is a minor — led to an uproar on social media and the winding journey in courts spanning two provinces became fodder for television talking heads and social media pundits.
Here, we look at the developments of the case over the past few months:
April 16, 2022: Dua is reported kidnapped from Karachi’s Malir area when she went out of her house to throw garbage. The FIR is filed by Dua's parents the same day.
April 20, 2022: Karachi police chief Ghulam Nabi Memon constitutes three special teams to trace the girl. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah also takes notice of the case after outrage on social media.
April 23, 2022: Police investigators seek technical aid from intelligence agencies for the girl's recovery.
April 25, 2022: Sindh CM says investigators have traced the location of the girl, but maintains secrecy for privacy reasons. Meanwhile, a police statement also surfaces the same day, claiming Dua married of her own accord.
April 26, 2022: Dua is produced before a judicial magistrate at Lahore's Model Town Courts, where she said she had willingly entered into a marriage with a boy, Zaheer Ahmad, from Lahore. In light of her testimony, the magistrate allowed her to go with him. Earlier that day, she and Zaheer were recovered from Okara and handed over to the Lahore police.
May 7, 2022: Karachi police issues interim challan against four suspects, including Zaheer and three others present at the time of the solemnisation of the marriage. They were charged with abduction, rape, and forced marriage.
May 8, 2022: Dua's father Mehdi Ali Kazmi moves to Sindh High Court to file a petition seeking an end to the marriage, saying his daughter is underage.
May 11, 2022: SHC orders authorities including the Sindh prosecutor general to file comments on the case till May 19.
May 20, 2022: Sindh Police seek Dua's medical examination, but the judicial magistrate in Lahore dismisses their petition.
May 24, 2022: SHC directs the interior secretary to expedite the process of finding Dua and asks authorities to produce the "abducted" girl by May 30.
May 28, 2022: SHC bench expresses its concern on the snail-paced investigation and warns the Sindh inspector general police and other police officials of action if Dua was not presented in front of the court within two days.
May 31, 2022: IGP Sindh is sent a show-cause notice for not "honouring" court orders on recovering Dua. The SHC bench also issued orders to present the abducted girl before them no later than June 3.
June 5, 2022: Lahore police recover Dua and her alleged husband Zaheer from Bahawalnagar, and hand them over to the Sindh police who bring the couple to Karachi for trial in the SHC.
June 6, 2022: Sindh police produce Dua and her alleged husband Zaheer in the SHC, and the court orders that the girl be taken to a shelter home for medical tests to determine her age. Meanwhile, Dua also records her statement in front of the SHC bench, “ I was not kidnapped. I married Zaheer of my free will and want to live with him”.
June 8, 2022: In a final ruling on the case, the SHC orders that the girl is free to decide her fate and has the autonomy to choose to live with whoever she wants. The court also ordered that the evidence does not qualify for this to be a kidnapping case.
June 16, 2022: Sindh police urge the SHC to cancel the FIR on Dua’s case and allow acquittal of Ghulam Mustafa and Ali Asghar, as the verdict defies kidnapping charges.
June 18, 2022: Dua’s father approaches the Supreme Court to challenge SHC’s verdict in the case.
June 23, 2022: Five days later, the Supreme Court disposes of Dua's father's petition after he withdraws it. Kazmi's lawyer says they will now approach the high court for the constitution of a medical board, and also a family court to challenge the nikahnama.
June 25, 2022: Karachi court orders Sindh police to continue investigation to determine Dua's age, following which a 10-member medical board is constituted for this purpose.
June 28, 2022: Dua's father moves a district and sessions court seeking replacement of the investigating officer of the case, argues that he is apparently investigating the matter in a biased manner.
June 29, 2022: First meeting of 10-member medical board to ascertain Dua's age held. However, the girl does not appear before it.
July 2, 2022: Dua is presented before the medical board constituted to determine her age.
July 3, 2022: Karachi court dismisses plea seeking removal of the investigating officer in the case.
July 4, 2022: Medical board concludes Dua's overall age is between 15-16 years. Her father's lawyer says the girl's statements and an earlier medical report which claimed she was 17 of age have been proven wrong.
July 6: The Sindh High Court issues notices to the interior ministry, provincial home department, police and others on a petition filed by the father of Dua, seeking her custody.
July 7: The Lahore High Court grants interim protective bail to Zaheer.
July 14: A sessions court in Karachi rules that a nikah khawan (marriage registrar) should not merely accept oral entries regarding the age of a bride and groom, but should also verify an authentic official documentary proof of their age.
July 16: In a dramatic turn, police informs a sessions court in Karachi that 24 persons, including Zaheer, had been found involved in abducting her from Karachi and shifting her to Punjab, where they solemnised the illegal child marriage.
July 19: A district and sessions court in Lahore sends Dua to Darul Aman (shelter home) at her request, while on the same day, a sessions court in Karachi orders removal of investigation officer as it hears a plea filed by Dua's father.
July 23: A judicial magistrate in Lahore allows the Sindh police to take the custody of Dua from shelter home and safely produce her before a trial court of Karachi.
July 24: Dua was brought back to Karachi and placed to a child protection centre in the city.