11/05/2020 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – According to local sources, a two-judge bench in the Sindh High Court has ordered the Interior Health Secretary to constitute a medical board to determine the actual age of Arzoo Raja, a Christian teen reportedly abducted and married by her 44-year-old Muslim neighbor. The court further ordered the findings of the medical report should be given to the court no later than Monday, November 9.
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 have challenged the validity of the marriage claiming that it violates the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. However, on October 27, the Sindh High Court ruled in favor of the marriage, applying an interpretation of Sharia law that allows for underage marriages.
On November 2, police were ordered by the Sindh High Court to recover Arzoo and arrest Azhar. Since then, Arzoo has been taken by police to a women’s shelter and Azhar has been arrested.
Earlier today, Arzoo appeared before the Sindh High Court. In this appearance, Arzoo stated that she is 18-years-old and married Azhar with her free will. She went on to say she was not abducted and has converted to Islam by her choice.
“We have serious concerns over the minor girl’s statement,” Father Saleh Diego, Regional Director for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, told International Christian Concern (ICC). “In such cases, pressure on the victims is often traced. We will never accept injustices against the religious minorities. We demand the implementation of the law which does not allow for a boy or girl less than 18 years of age to get married.”
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.