After forced marriage, conversion, 13-year-old teen handed over to 'husband' by Sindh court in Pakistan

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Days after reports of the abduction, forced conversion and marriage of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan, came to light; a Sindh High Court has given the custody of the girl to her husband saying she accepted Islam willingly.

According to reports, in her testimony, Arzoo not only said that she accepted the faith out of her own volition but also that she was not abducted or made to marry by force.

There is a video doing the rounds on social media where her family is seen pleading and trying to convince her to tell the truth and go home with them. However, the teen continues to maintain that she married of her own will and was not lured by money.

Sindh High Court has given the custody of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl to her husband because, she has accepted Islam willingly and she told that she was not abducted even didn't force to marry. pic.twitter.com/oQHhI3E2MP

— Daily Times (@dailytimespak) November 1, 2020

Even if the marriage wasn't forced, it certainly is illegal since she is still a minor.

Pakistan Minister for Science and Technology has questioned the decision of the court. In a tweet, he said, "Honorable CJP this requires a thorough inquiry into loopholes in elevation system of Judges decision is contempt of Pakistan Justice system...."

Honorable CJP this requires a thorough inquiry into loopholes in elevation system of Judges decision is contempt of Pak Justice system.... https://t.co/Ji5wNsp2yo

— Ch Fawad Hussain (@fawadchaudhry) November 2, 2020

WHO IS ARZOO RAJA?

Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl was forcibly abducted allegedly by Ali Azhar, a 44-year-old man in Karachi, Pakistan. Arzoo was converted to Islam and reportedly got married to her abductor.

Various human rights organisations have demanded justice for Arzoo Raja since. Naveed Walter, president of Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP) said minority girls, particularly Christians and Hindus, are forcefully converted to Islam and made to marry Muslim men in the country. "Abduction, conversion and marriage on the same day is a common practice in such cases and it has happened with Arzoo also in the same sequence," said Walter.

FALSE AGE, CONSENT FORMS PRESENTED IN COURT

The HRFP fact-finding team reported that in proceedings of Sindh High Court dated October 27, 2020, Arzoo's personal information records were altered including age, mentioning her as an 18-year old. The records also contained a statement of her free will in marrying and embracing Islam.

It was also found that Arzoo's picture was also replaced on legal documents, as pointed out by her mother Rita.

"In court premises, Arzoo was denied from meeting her mother as she was stopped by Ali Azhar," said Naveed Walter.

Walter added, "The age of the girl is 13 and it is proved by her school records and certificates, national database states her date of birth as July 31, 2007, and the church register also shows the same age but she has been falsely presented as an adult in court including a conversion certificate from the Madressah Jamia Islamia and a marriage certificate with her new name Arzoo Fatima."

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SLAMS PAK COURT DECISION

Meanwhile, representatives of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which includes Pakistan, called on the nation to abide by the 2014 Kathmandu Call to Action to End Child Marriage in Asia.

"As part of its commitment and signatory to international rights treaties, Pakistan has to ensure access to legal remedies for child brides and establish a uniform minimum legal age of marriage of 18, but there are no listenings nor implementations, unfortunately," said Naveed Walter.

London-based Anila Gulzar, spokeswoman for Justice for Minorities in Pakistan slammed the judge who ruled that Arzoo Raja was old enough to make her own decision to marry her husband.

She said, "This is very unfortunate that minorities in Pakistan have no place. They are not even secure. As per the law, those who are involved in forced and underage marriages have to face three years of punishment. But, when this case was presented in the court, the judge ruled that Arzoo Raja was old enough to make her own decision."

"Why is no voice is being raised against the minorities in Pakistan? Human rights activists and politicians are silent over the atrocities being committed against the minorities. Even in courts, there is no justice for the victims," Anila Gulzar added.

(With inputs from agencies)

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