A high court in Pakistan, ruling against a Catholic family whose 13-year-old daughter was allegedly abducted by a 44-year-old Muslim man, validated the girl’s marriage to her reported abductor.
“Arzoo Raja had been taken from outside her home on October 13 and two days later, as the family searched for her, police announced that they had received marriage papers claiming that Arzoo was 18 and that she had converted to Islam to marry her 44-year-old abductor, Ali Azhar,” The Catholic Herald reports, adding, “The family were able to provide the authorities with an official birth certificate proving Arzoo was 13.”
When Arzoo’s family filed an appeal to the court, her mother told Aid to the Church in Need, “In the name of God, please rescue our daughter. We are deeply worried. Please help us. The abductor and his supporters are terrifying us and we are in danger from these people. Please listen to our appeal,” as persecution.org reported.
“According to a study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted to Islam every year. Many of the victims are minors. Sexual assaults and fraudulent marriages are used by perpetrators to entrap victims and authorities are often complicit,” persecution.org added.
On October 27, prior to the court validating the marriage, Arzoo told the Sindh High Court of Pakistan she had recited the Islamic proclamation of faith. The court ruled, according to The Catholic Herald:
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 Faatima; per learned counsel petitioner contracted her marriage to Azhar of her own free will and accord without duress and fear.
The court slammed the police “harassing” Arzoo after the alleged abduction, adding that authorities must now “provide protection to the newly-wedded wife.”
Outside the court, Arzoo’s mother reportedly begged, “Arzoo, come to your mama. He will kill you.”
Samson Salamat, the Christian chairman of the interreligious Movement for Tolerance, reacted to the verdict by stating, “I am distressed and disappointed with the position taken by the honorable court. A sexual act with a minor is felony even if she is willing. The court has validated a rape despite the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014 that punishes contractors of child marriage with up to three years’ imprisonment. Can a judge, an army officer or a Pakistani politician tolerate handing over their minor daughter to a middle-aged man? What is the future of minority girls in Pakistan? Our courts favor the powerful. We still don’t have strong calls from a joint minority platform on forced conversions,” according to UCA News.
A protest against the court’s ruling was scheduled for Wednesday.
Join us at 3pm outside St Patrick’s Church to protest the child marriage and forced conversion of Arzoo Raja. pic.twitter.com/6TA49o4tuU
— Siaasi Aurtain – سیاسی عورتیں (@SiaasiAurtain) October 28, 2020
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