Pakistani Court Validates Marriage of Abducted Christian Teen to 44-Year-Old Muslim Man
High Court Uses Religion to Justify Abduction and Child Marriage for Second Time
10/29/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the High Court of Sindh has used an interpretation of Sharia law to validate the marriage of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl, to Ali Azhar, a 44-year-old Muslim man. Arzoo’s parents claim that Azhar forcefully married their teenage daughter after she was abducted from her family home and forcefully converted to Islam earlier this month.
Arzoo’s parents claim that their daughter was abducted from their home located in the Railway Colony of Karachi, Pakistan on October 13. Raja, Arzoo’s father, reported the incident to local police and filed a First Information Report (FIR). Two days later, on October 15, Arzoo’s family was summoned to the police station and informed that Arzoo had married Azhar and willingly converted to Islam. Police claim that Azhar produced a marriage certificate stating that Arzoo was 18 years old.
In an attempt to bring their daughter home, Arzoo’s parents challenged the validity of the marriage in court, claiming that it violates the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. According to this act, marriages of minors under the age of 18 are illegal. To prove their claim, the couple produced a copy of Arzoo’s birth certificate, documenting her as 13 years old.
However, on Tuesday, October 27, the High Court of Sindh ruled in favor of the marriage, applying an interpretation of Sharia law that allows for underage marriages. The court order confirming the marriage read:
“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.”
“The pattern in the high court is a replica of what we have seen in the past,” Sabir Michael, a human rights activist, told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). “The parents of Arzoo even touched the feet of the police to meet their daughter. We have never witnessed such helplessness. My heart was broken today.”
This is the second time in which the High Court of Sindh has used Sharia law to justify an underage marriage in a forced conversion case. On February 3, the same court concluded that Huma Younas, a 14-year-old Christian girl, was legally married to Abdul Jabbar, an adult Muslim man. Similar to Arzoo’s case, Huma’s parents claim that their daughter was abducted from the family home and forcefully converted to Islam before being forcibly married to Jabbar.
According to a 2014 study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian community are abducted, forcefully married to their captors, and forcibly converted to Islam every year. The issue of religion is also often injected into cases of sexual assault to place religious minority victims at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know that they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing the element of religion.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, said, “We here at International Christian Concern are deeply saddened by the court’s decision to validate the marriage of a 13-year-old girl to an adult man. This decision has placed Arzoo’s safety at risk and will likely mean any testimony she is able to give in court will be tainted by the threats she will endure in the custody of her alleged abductor. Pakistan must do more to combat the issue of abductions, forced marriages, and forced conversions. For too long, perpetrators have used religion to justify their crimes against Pakistan’s religious minorities.”