By Matias Perttula
10/30/2020 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Pakistani Christian girl, is the latest victim in the pattern of the kidnapping, forced conversion, and forced marriage of young Christian girls in the country. This case prompted demonstrations against these grave injustices in an attempt to give a voice to the suppressed religious minorities of Pakistan. With these kidnappings taking place now more regularly than before, the religious minorities have been pushed to increasing extremes of discrimination.
Arzoo, from the city of Karachi located in the southern part of Pakistan in the province of Sindh, was abducted by her next door neighbor, Mr. Azhar Ali, taken against her will, forcefully converted to Islam, and married to the 44-old kidnapper. Her parents filed an official report with the police department and immediately began pursuing legal action on behalf of their daughter, which resulted in the most recent decision of the high court favoring the 44-year-old kidnapper and upholding the marriage. Although the case filed by the parents was pending in district court, where the abductor refused to disclose the whereabouts of Arzoo, Mr. Ali filed the complaint in High Court for protection on behalf of Arzoo. The judge did not provide a fair opportunity to the plaintiffs, which was a direct violation of Article 10-A of the prevailing state constitutions and issued a one-sided decision without examining the government, school, or church documents clearly starting that the girl was a minor of the age of 13. Moreover, the parents and the lawyers were unable to present their case before the issuance of the said court order. The pending jurisdiction of the lower court and orders for Arzoo to be produced in court were ignored by the high court. Instead of producing her in lower court, Mr. Ali presented Arzoo at the higher court, which was an openly disrespectful and deceiving maneuver by the abductors. Such a strategy is quite indicative of a complicity within the police and the system in regards to this case.
As codified in the Sindh Child Marriages Restrained Act of 2013, the province of Sindh has prohibited child marriage and restricted the age of consent to 18 years of age. Even though documents produced by Arzoo’s family clearly proved her to be 13, the judge refused to review this evidence. Instead, the judge of the high court sided with the falsified documents presented by the kidnappers.
The case sparked demonstrations in the region protesting this pattern of injustice. Forced kidnappings and forced conversions have become commonplace in Pakistan and remain a consistent point of fear for the girls in the religious minority communities.
Dr. Sabir Michael, a Karachi-based academic, Human Rights defender, and participant organizer of these demonstrations said, “It is the second reported case of abduction, forced conversion, and marriage of the minor Christian girl in Karachi in recent months, which has increased a sense of fear and insecurity in the Christian community at large. Apparently, it seemed that the policy and administrations of the court, as well as the city and state institutions, stood with Azhar Ali, the abductor of the minor girl. Her mother was not allowed to meet her in separation, which further seeded mistrust and outrage against the state institutions among the plaintiffs, human rights defenders, and the Christian and minority community.”
Since Mr. Ali’s two brothers are the employees of the Sindh police, Dr. Michael severely doubted the effectiveness of the police in this case. “A fair trial should be provided, giving the strongest considerations to her status as a minor. Additionally, her medical examination should be conducted independently and she should be placed in the custody of the relevant child protection unit of the Sindh government. Even better, she should preferably be placed in the protection home for the girls and women under the supervision of Justice Majida Rizvi, a chairperson of the Sindh Human Rights Commission.”
The international community must speak up on behalf of the oppressed in Pakistan and demand justice for these innocent girls and their families.
Matias Perttula serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.