Published on The Independent, by Joan Smith, 30 November 2006.
… When a 12-year-old girl from the Western Isles turned up in Pakistan three months ago, declaring that she had left Scotland of her own free will to live with her father and sister in Lahore, it seemed an open-and-shut case.
Misbah Rana, whose disappearance had prompted a police investigation amid claims that she was destined for an arranged marriage, appeared before the media and confirmed she was delighted to be in Pakistan. Misbah certainly looked happy, and speculation in the British press that she had been abducted was denounced in some quarters as evidence of racist assumptions or Islamophobia.
One correspondent to a Sunday newspaper even chided the publication for using the name the girl was known by in Scotland, Molly Campbell. “Whatever the rights and wrongs of the custody case, is it not time we all got used to calling Misbah by her real name?” he asked. But what is the girl’s “real” name? This question goes to the heart of the case, which took an unexpected turn yesterday when the high court in Lahore ruled that she should be returned to her mother, Louise Campbell, in Scotland.
The girl’s father, Sajad Ahmed Rana, has been given seven days to hand her over to staff at the British High Commission, and a final decision on custody will be made by a court in Scotland.
Mr Rana immediately expressed outrage and said he was considering an appeal. He told journalists his daughter was devastated and burst into tears when she heard the court’s ruling. Yet the judge’s decision is both brave and correct, based on an acknowledgement that Mr Rana and the girl’s elder sister Tahmina broke the law when they secretly organised her flight from Scotland without the permission of Ms Campbell, who had been awarded interim custody. And while claims about race and religion have confused commentators, the case actually turns on another issue, which is whether a man is entitled to exercise classic patriarchal values, regardless of the best interests of a child.
It is an issue which transcends ethnicity, as we can see from the stunts carried out in this country by militant fathers’ rights campaigner … (full text).