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01/02/2020 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – According to Morning Star News, the abductor of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl taken from her home in Karachi, was released on bail last month. The 44-year-old Muslim man maintains he has not violated Pakistan’s laws against child marriage and child rape because Arzoo has attained puberty.

On October 13, Arzoo was allegedly 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 court ruled in favor of the marriage and order local police to protect Arzoo and Azhar.

On November 2, police were ordered by the High Court in Sindh 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 9, the High Court in Sindh ruled that Arzoo was a minor and that her marriage to Azhar violated the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. Arzoo returned to the women’s shelter after she refused to reunite with her family and insisted that she had freely chosen to marry Azhar.

On November 23, the High Court in Sindh declined to dismiss the criminal charges against Azhar and ordered that Arzoo Raja remain in a government shelter home until she turns 18. On December 17, the court ordered Azhar be released on bail.

Jibran Nasir, the lawyer representing Arzoo’s parents, expressed regret over the court’s decision to release Azhar. “There are good, bad and at times even dark days for justice,” Nasir said in a tweet following the ruling.

According to Azhar’s lawyer, Azhar cannot be charged with rape of a minor because Arzoo had attained puberty and would be allowed to marry under Islamic law. If found guilty of rape, Azhar would face life imprisonment or a death sentence.

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.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected].