11/09/2020 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – According to local reports, a medical board in Pakistan found that Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl abducted and married by her 44-year-old Muslim neighbor, is no more than 14-years-old. This finding supports Arzoo’s birth and baptism certificates submitted to the court by Arzoo’s parents in October.
On October 13, Arzoo was abducted from her family home in Karachi by Ali Azhar, her Muslim neighbor. Arzoo’s parents reported the incident to local police and were informed two days later that their daughter had converted to Islam and married Azhar.
Arzoo’s parents challenged the validity of the marriage claiming it violated the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. However, on October 27, the Sindh High Court ruled in favor of the marriage and order local police to protect Arzoo and Azhar.
On November 2, police were ordered by the Sindh High Court to recover Arzoo and arrest Azhar. This came after Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights became involved in the case as an intervener. Arzoo was taken to a women’s shelter and Azhar was arrested.
On November 5, Arzoo appeared before the Sindh High Court. In this appearance, Arzoo stated she was 18-years-old and married Azhar of her own free will. She went on to say she was not abducted and converted to Islam by her choice. Following this hearing, the Sindh High Court ordered a medical board to examine Arzoo and determine her age.
As the findings of the medical board were announced in court today, Arzoo once again stated she wanted the court to release her to her ‘husband’ and that she had married Azhar of her own free will. However, since the court has found Arzoo to be underage, this was refused and she was returned to the shelter home.
The court also directed police to take legal action against Azhar for kidnapping Arzoo and violating the Sindh Child Marriage Act. The Sindh High Court has adjourned the case for the next two weeks.
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.
The issue of religion is injected into cases of sexual assault to place victims from religious minority communities at a disadvantage. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
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