A 13-YEAR-OLD Christian girl in Pakistan, Arzoo Raja, was rescued on Monday after being kidnapped and forced to marry a 44-year-old man.
But the Centre for Legal Aid and Assistance, which supports persecuted Christians in Pakistan, warned that many girls in the country were “threatened into giving statements to the court saying they have married and converted to Islam of their own free will”.
Ms Raja’s family had reported on 13 October that she had gone missing from her home in Karachi. They were told two days later, however, by a man named Ali Azhar, that he had a certificate proving that she was his wife. He also said that she was 18 and had converted to Islam.
The family said that the documents were fake, but a court ruling last Tuesday granted custody of Ms Raja to Mr Ali, saying that she had converted to Islam of her own free will, and taken the name Arzoo Fatima. Her family filed a harassment charge in late October, which was initially dismissed by the court, but was upheld after protests from religious and human-rights groups.
On Tuesday, it was reported that the Sindh High Court on Monday instructed police to find the girl. She was found later that day, and was due to remain in police custody until yesterday. Mr Ali was arrested on Monday night.
The Vicar-General Karachi Roman Catholic archdiocese, Fr Saleh Diego, told the Catholic News Agency that “whatever happened in the court was shameful and deplorable . . . the court, without checking or determining Arzoo’s age, ruled in favour of the abductors.”
He went on: “Religious minorities living in Pakistan are concerned about the future of their daughters who are being converted to Islam.”
The director of the Centre for Legal Aid and Assistance in the UK, Nasir Saeed, said last week that the forced marriage and conversion of young girls was an ongoing problem in Pakistan.
“It is sad, as the Pakistani police and courts have failed to respect their own laws, as well international standards, which are continuing to be ignored especially in forced-conversion and forced-marriage cases, even in the higher courts.
“Very often, young girls are threatened into giving statements to the court saying they have married and converted to Islam of their own free will.
“But, recently, we have seen that two girls, Maira Shahbaz and Mahwish, who gave the same statement under duress, escaped their kidnapper and are living in hiding,” he said.