A Karachi court on Wednesday sent teenager Dua Zehra — the girl who was reported missing from Karachi on April 16 and later recovered from Punjab on June 5 — to a government-run child protection and shelter home.
The order was issued during the hearing of a case pertaining to her alleged kidnapping from Karachi and transfer to Punjab, where her underage marriage was illegally solemnised.
Judicial Magistrate (East) Aftab Ahmed Bughio issued the order on an application moved by her purported husband, Zaheer Ahmed, seeking direction for the child protection officer to produce Dua in the court.
On July 24, Karachi police had brought Dua back from the Darul Aman, Lahore, where she had taken shelter following the ongoing legal battle between Zaheer and her parents regarding the legality of their alleged marriage.
At the outset of Wednesday’s hearing, investigating officer DSP Saeed Rind produced Dua before the court.
At the time of her appearance in the courtroom, the magistrate only allowed the counsel representing the parties to stay inside the courtroom.
He clarified to the parties that “at this juncture the purpose of the production of the minor/victim is to safeguard her rights till the commencement of the trial and decide a better place for her temporary stay”.
The magistrate inquired the accompanying officer about “the environment under which the victim was kept”.
A counsel representing her purported husband said Dua wanted to get her statement recorded.
However, the magistrate did not entertain the request, saying that the teenager was not produced for the purpose of recording her statement, but the purpose was just to ensure the protection of her rights, including security.
He inquired from the counsel representing the parties as to whether they were satisfied if the custody was entrusted to the Shelter Home for the Destitute and Orphan Children Social Welfare.
Both the parties showed no reservations if the Dua’s custody was handed over to the shelter home.
“I’m of the opinion that Shelter Home for Destitute & Orphan Children Social Welfare is the appropriate place for entrusting the custody during the period of trial or till further orders,” the magistrate said after hearing both the parties.
“Accordingly, the custody of the victim is hereby entrusted to the Shelter Home for Destitute & Orphan Children Social Welfare”, he ordered.
The magistrate also directed the child protection officer to ensure that no person was allowed to meet with the “minor/victim without seeking prior permission from the court”.
Furthermore, the magistrate ordered that the custody of the minor should not be moved from the shelter home unless the court or any other court of the competent jurisdiction issued written orders.
On April 16, Dua’s parents filed a first information report alleging that their daughter had been kidnapped when she left the house to dispose of some trash. The incident had provoked an outcry, especially on social media, which had prompted authorities to take notice.
After nearly 10 days, on April 26, the teenage girl was recovered from Okara. In a video statement that day, Dua had said that she wasn’t kidnapped and had married Zaheer of her “free will”.
She had 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 had stated.
Dua had also claimed that her parents were lying about her age.
Subsequently, she and Zaheer approached a Lahore district and sessions court and filed a petition against Dua’s father and cousin.
Meanwhile, the police had also filed a plea in court demanding that Dua be sent to Darul Aman. However, the magistrate rejected the request and allowed the teenager “to go wherever she wanted to”.
On the other hand, Dua’s parents were adamant that their daughter had been kidnapped and said that she had been forced to give the statement.
The teenager’s father had also approached the SHC in May with a plea against the Punjab court’s orders. Kazmi had stated in the petition that as per her educational, birth certificates and other records, Dua’s age was 13 and under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 it was illegal to marry a minor.
He had asked the court to order a medical examination of his daughter. In the following days, Karachi police repeatedly failed to produce the teenager in court earning the judges’ ire.
On June 6, the SHC had ordered an ossification to determine Dua’s age. She was also sent to a shelter home for the time being after she refused to meet her parents.
Two days later, the court ruled that the teenager was at liberty to decide who she wanted to live with. During the hearing, the IO filed his report along with an age certificate issued by the office of the police surgeon which stated that as per the opinion of doctors and the Civil Hospital’s department of radiology, the bone age of the alleged abductee was between 16 and 17 years of age.
In its order, the bench said the petition had served its purpose as it was only to the extent of the whereabouts of the alleged minor/abductee.
Later, Kazmi challenged the verdict in the SC, which had in turn asked him approach the relevant forums for the constitution of a medical board. Subsequently, a judicial magistrate in Karachi had ordered the constitution of another board to determine Dua’s age.