Five petitions requesting custody of Shama and Shahzad Masih’s three children are pending in a guardian court. The couple was burnt alive by a mob in Kot Radha Kishan on November 6.
Six-year-old Salman, four-year-old Sania and 18-month-old Poonam are currently living with their maternal grandfather. Shama was expecting another child when she was killed. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif visited the children a day after their parents were murdered and announced Rs5 million financial assistance and 10 acres of land for the three children. He promised free education and health as well. The deed to the land has been transferred to the children but the cheque for Rs5 million is lying with the Kasur DCO, who must hand the cheque to the children’s guardian.
A court battle for custody of the children is underway. The claimants are Mukhtar Masih, the children’s maternal grandfather, their maternal uncle Yasin Masih, their paternal uncle Iqbal Masih and Advocate Sardar Mushtaq Gill of the Legal Evangelical Association Development. The Child Protection and Welfare Bureau has also filed a petition seeking custody of the children till the court decides who to hand over the children to.
The petitions have been filed before Lahore Guardian Court Judge Muhammad Amin Shehzad. The next date of hearing is February 6.
The court battle for custody has pitted the relatives against each other. All of them claim to be the children’s rightful guardians and have resorted to mudslinging in their bid to prove that they have the children’s best interest at heart.
Yasin Masih has said that his father is an “an old, weak and ailing man” who is dependent on his children for his own sustenance and is therefore not the right person to be guardian of the three children. He said that his father married twice. He said he and Shama were his children from his first wife, Bashira Bibi. He said his father had seven children from his second wife, Taj Bibi. “My father can’t look after himself. How will he take care of three children?” Yasin Masih said that he was young and better equipped to raise the children in a suitable environment. Therefore, the court must declare him the rightful guardian of the children and their properties.
In response, his father has said that Yasin Masih has no locus standi and is concealing key facts.
In reply to Yasin’s application, his father Mukhtar has submitted that he has concealed facts in his application and has no locus standi to file the application against him. He said, “The application is bad in its apparent form, and should therefore, be dismissed.”
The CPWB, in its application for custody, has requested custody of the children till the court takes a final decision regarding who to hand over the children to.
Shahzad’s elder brother Iqbal Masih has said that the children have lived with him since birth. He says their maternal grandfather took them after Shama and Shehzad’s funeral. “I have asked Mukhtar several times to send the children back but he refused.”
Iqbal Masih’s petition says if he is not given custody of the children, he would “suffer irreparable loss and injury”.
Advocate Mushtaq Gill, on behalf of the Legal Evangelical Association Development, an NGO, has said that his organisation works with children, families, communities and churches of various denominations to overcome poverty and injustice.
He says it has decided to intervene because there is a dispute among the families of the deceased over custody of the children. He says if the court hands the children over to the CPWB, they would be deprived of Christian teachings and religious atmosphere children are entitled to. He says if the dispute over custody lingers, the children’s welfare would be affected.
The children’s paternal family are protestant while the maternal side are catholic. He says Shama had been baptised according to catholic rites and rituals. “Therefore the catholic community is concerned about the children’s welfare.”
This was why LEAD wanted custody of the children, he explained. If the court did not give them permanent custody, they would settle for temporary custody till the case was disposed of.
CPWB Chairperson MPA Saba Sadiq told The Express Tribune that they had requested custody of the children since their families were fighting over them. The chairperson said they wanted temporary or permanent custody for their welfare. “Iqbal Masih is not letting anyone meet the children,” Sadiq said.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Mukhtar said one of Iqbal’s sisters-in-law had left her children to marry someone else. “Iqbal never stepped forward to take care of her children. Why does he want custody of Shahzad’s children?” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2015.