A 13-year-old Christian girl from Pakistan was kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam and marry a 44-year-old man.
The case of Arzoo Raja sparked protests in Karachi and Lahore, but the Pakistani court validated the marriage, after the man, Ali Azhar, claimed she was 18 and had converted to Islam on her own free will, and produced a marriage certificate.
During the court hearing, Arzoo tried to run to her mother but Azhar allegedly held her in a tight grip to stop her from leaving.
According to her father, Arzoo was abducted from their family home in Karachi’s Railway Colony on October 13, after he and his wife went to work.
He reported the incident to local police and filed a First Information Report (FIR).
A Christian group called the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) said that the police contacted the family two days later and said that the “husband” had presented a marriage certificate stating that Arzoo was 18 years old.
“Very often young girls are threatened into giving statements to the court saying they have married and converted to Islam of their own free will,” CLAAS UK director Nasir Saeed said.
“It is a very sensitive matter for Pakistani Christians but sadly it is all falling on the deaf ears of the politicians and the authorities.”
“It is sad as the Pakistani police and courts have failed to respect their own laws, as well international standards, which are continuing to be ignored especially in forced conversion and forced marriage cases even in the higher courts,” Saeed added.
Arzoo’s parents challenged the validity of the marriage in court, and claimed that it violates the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act – which made marriages of minors under the age of 18 illegal.
At the hearing, the parents presented Arzoo’s birth certificate showing her real age, but the High Court of Sindh ruled in favor of the marriage, citing that underage marriages are allowed in Sharia law.
The court order reads:
“The petitioner initially belonged to the Christian religion.However, after the passage of time, the petitioner understood and realized that Islam is a universal religion and she asked her parents and other family members to embrace Islam, but they flatly refused.
Subsequently, she accepted the religion of Islam before the religious person of Madressah Jamia Islamia.After embracing Islam, her new name is Arzoo Fatima; per learned counsel petitioner contracted her marriage to Azhar of her own free will and accord without duress and fear.
After registration of FIR police started harassing the petitioner.They are unable to pass a happy life. The SHO is directed to provide protection to the newly wedded wife. ”
Human rights activist Sabir Michael told the Union of Catholic Asian News that, “The pattern in the high court is a replica of what we have seen in the past.”
“The parents of Arzoo even touched the feet of the police to meet their daughter. We have never witnessed such helplessness,” he added, “My heart was broken today.”