Karachi/Faisalabad, Pakistan (Anawim Today)- Outraged Pakistani Christians held two protest demonstrations to demand the recovery of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Pakistani Christian girl, who has recently been allegedly abducted, raped and forced to convert to Islam and married to a 44 year old man.
One of the two protest demonstrations was held in the southern port city of Karachi. The second protest was held in Sumandari, which is some 50.4 kilometers from the Pakistani city of Faisalabad in province Punjab of Pakistan.
Trouble began for the 13-year-old on October 13 when she was abducted by Ali Azhar, a local Muslim man, while she was playing outside of her home in Karachi’s St. Anthony’s Parish. Arzoo Raja’s parents immediately filed a kidnapping complaint with local police.
Two days later, on October 15, police summoned Arzoo’s parents to the station where they presented the couple with marriage and conversion documents. The documents described Arzoo to be of 18 years of age. Arzoo, according to the documents, had converted to Islam and married Azhar willingly.
Arzoo’s suffering echoes that of Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Pakistani Christian girl, who was allegedly abducted, raped, forced to convert and marry to her abductor in April this year.
The Lahore High Court allowed Maira Shahbaz to go with Nakash, her husband. Maira Shahbaz managed to flee from her captor’s custody and has since gone into hiding.
Hundreds of enraged Christians, human rights activists and members of civil society gathered outside Karachi press club on Saturday, October 24, to condemn the alleged abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of Arzoo Raja, who, is a grade 6 student.
Protesters were holding placards inscribed with slogans in favour of their demands. Enraged protesters shouted slogans: “jabri shadi na manzoor”, forced marriage is unacceptable. “zulm kay yeh zabtay hum nahin mantay” – we don’t expect these codes of oppression- and “bachioon say zaidati na manzoor” – the rape of female children is unacceptable.
Sources told Anawim Today that neither the accused himself appeared in the court today, Saturday, 24 October, nor did he produce Arzoo, stating that instead the lawyers representing him appeared in the court on his behalf.
It is not clear when Arzoo will be produced in the court. Christian and human rights activists were expecting until late Saturday afternoon that the judge would make it binding on the accused to produce Arzoo in the court on Monday, October 26 by way of a court order.
The court order, which has been seen by Anawim Today, makes no mention of Arzoo’s production in the court on Monday.
According to Pakistan’s English daily newspaper, Dawn, the judge issued bailable warrants for the arrest of the cleric, who allegedly solemnised the marriage of the then 13-year-old girl and her husband and his relatives against the sum of Rs10,000 US$ 61.97 each.
The Dawn report quoted the judge as saying: “On careful examination of the statements recorded during preliminary inquiry it appears that the complainant in her statement stated that she is less than 13 years and she was not willing in the nikah [the wedding] with the accused.”
According to Dawn the judge noted that the nikah was solemnised without the minor Christian’s consent under pressure, coercion and influence.
The judge, according to Dawn, said marriage of either party, who is less than 18-year is prohibited under the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013.
Addressing protesters outside Karachi press club Ghazala Shafique, a renowned theologian and human rights activist, condemned the 45-year-old accused for having allegedly abducted, raped and forcibly married Raja. She criticised police for having failed to arrest the accused, adding that the accused did not produce Arzoo in the court.
Ms Shafique stated that the accused, the cleric, and the accused’s aiders and abettors should be given punishments according to the law.
A large number of Christian activists and members of civil society gathered outside the court room alongside Raja’s family to express solidarity to them.
Arzoo Raja’s grandmother, who was present on the occasion stated that the accused had abducted, raped and forcibly married her granddaughter because she was a soft target.
Ms Noor Naz Agha, advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan while addressing protesters said the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act stipulates punishment of three years for anyone who performs a wedding or who participates in such a wedding or facilitates a wedding where one of the parties is underaged.
She said Arzoo Raja should be ordered to go to a shelter home. Ms Agha called for for a medico-legal examination of Arzoo.
“An 18-year-old can discern between right and wrong. A 13 year old does not know right from wrong which is why the Child Marriages Restraint Act has been introduced,” said Ms Agha.
The protest demonstration in Sumandari in province Punjab of Pakistan called for immediate recovery of Arzoo Raja. Speakers called for an end to growing incidents of forced conversions and forced marriages must come to an end.
About the writer:
Sheraz Khan is the founder and director of Anawim Today. Sheraz has been a journalist for nearly 20 years. He has written extensively on Christian persecution. He founded Anawim Today to highlight stories of persecution from around the world. If you would like to join Anawim Today as its correspondent Sheraz would love to hear from you. Sheraz can be contacted by e-mail: email@example.com