Molly case father wins next round

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The Independent Online

A court in Pakistan today granted a 48-hour protection order in the case of British schoolgirl Molly Campbell.

The 12-year-old flew to the country to live with her father after fleeing her mother's home in Scotland.

A judge in the eastern city of Lahore today ordered that she could not be deported to the UK for at least two days.

Molly's lawyer said she had been under round-the-clock surveillance since arriving in Pakistan a fortnight ago and he feared police could try to repatriate her forcibly to Britain.

The High Court in Lahore asked Pakistani authorities and the British High Commission in the country if there were any attempts under way to return Molly to Scotland against her will.

The disappearance last month of the schoolgirl from her home on Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, sparked an international hunt involving Interpol and has triggered a bitter custody battle between her parents, who divorced about five years ago.

Molly, who is also known as Misbah Iram Ahmed Rana, was picked up by her 18-year-old sister Tahmina, who lives in Pakistan.

The pair flew from the Western Isles to Glasgow, where they met their father, then on to Lahore.

Round one of the legal wrangle was won last week by the schoolgirl's father, Sajad Ahmed Rana, when a court in Lahore granted him temporary custody.

Molly had signed a statement saying she arrived in Pakistan on August 26 under her own free will.

Glasgow-based Bashir Maan, a close friend of Mr Rana and president of the National Association of British Pakistanis, said today: "There is a protocol between Pakistan and the UK and the family feared police could uplift the girl to return her to the UK.

"The protection order is just a safeguard measure to make sure she cannot be taken away while Mr Rana tries to secure permanent custody, which could be decided in the next 48 hours."

Pakistan has never signed up to the Hague Convention, an international agreement which seeks to return abducted children to their home countries, but the Anglo-Pakistan Protocol, agreed in 2003, serves a similar purpose.

Molly said she does not want to return to live with her Scottish mother, Louise Campbell, who was awarded legal custody of her daughter in the UK last year.

The schoolgirl also said last week her mother's home had become a "living hell" and that her father's Islamic culture in Pakistan suited her more.

John Fotheringham, a family law expert from Edinburgh firm Fyfe Ireland, said: "The (Anglo-Pakistan) Protocol says it's the court of the child's habitual residence that should decide where the child should live, rather than the court in the country to which the child has been taken.

"But the problem is the protocol doesn't have any statutory authority. It's a judicial protocol and this case may well be the one to test it."

Mr Rana has accused his ex-wife, who became a Muslim after marrying him, of trying to get their daughter to eat what is forbidden in Islam, drink alcohol and bring the girl up as a Christian.

International human rights lawyer Stephen Jakobi said the issue of religion would be important when the court came to consider which parent should have custody.

"This is a classic clash of cultures story," he said. "There are two parallel court systems in Pakistan, one secular and one sharia.

"I would be astonished if the family courts system wasn't sharia. So, the question of religion will be fundamental to deciding which parent should have custody and I would have thought it will be awarded to Mr Rana."