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Court: Arzoo Raja a child marriage case, age 14

She is not 18 as she claims

SAMAA | - Posted: Nov 9, 2020 | Last Updated: 10 months ago
SAMAA |
Posted: Nov 9, 2020 | Last Updated: 10 months ago

Photo: Yasal Munim/SAMAA

Medical experts have said that Arzoo Raja, a Karachi teenager at the centre of a forced conversion and marriage case, is no older than 14 years, leading judges to declare that it would appear to be a child marriage then.

Arzoo’s parents say that she was kidnapped from home, converted and married to Syed Ali Azhar, 41. He claims she converted and married him of her own free will.

When Arzoo claimed she was 18, the court formed a five-member board to determine her age. Arzoo’s parents said she is 13 years old and presented NADRA documents to support this. The court found the documents to be true and said that this appears to be a child marriage case. The law prohibits the marriage of anyone under the age of 18 years in Sindh. What has yet to be determined is if Arzoo freely converted.

Currently, there is no set age for conversion in the province. In 2016, Sindh tabled a bill on forced conversion under which it set the minimum age at 18 years. The bill was never passed.

Justice Muhammad Karim Khan Agha and Justice Kausar Sultana Hussain asked Arzoo at the hearing Monday if she wanted to meet her parents. She was brought to court surrounded by women police. She told the judges she wanted to be with her husband. He is in police custody till November 10.

Justice Agha asked Arzoo if there was any pressure on her or if she had been kidnapped. Tears started streaming down her cheeks as she replied: “I converted to Islam from my own free will and I want to meet my husband.”

The court had sent her to a shelter home for two weeks and barred Ali from meeting her. It ruled that every person who was a part of the nikkah ceremony would be investigated under the Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013.

The government is paying for Arzoo’s education and expenses at the shelter home and no one is allowed to meet her unless they have the court’s permission, according to Jibran Nasir, who is representing her parents. Her parents said that they just wanted to meet their daughter once and hope that the law supports them.

“We thank the court for its cooperation and hope that people who seek justice in such cases get it,” remarked a Christian social worker while speaking to the media after the hearing.
The case has been adjourned till November 23.

Case history

On October 13, Raja Masih, the teenager’s father, filed an FIR after she was kidnapped from her house in Railway Colony. The police found that she had been married to Syed Ali Azhar. For his part, Azhar presented a nikkahnama, free-will affidavit, and a Sanad-e-Islam certificate.

Her parents then approached a judicial magistrate seeking her protective custody. They argued that consummation of child marriage is tantamount to statutory rape and is outlawed under Section 375 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 5 of the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006. 

The nikkahnama doesn’t have any particulars of her age or CNIC copy. It doesn’t have the medical certificate needed to prove a person is 18 in case there is no CNIC either.

Arzoo’s parents say she was forced to file a petition in the Sindh High Court on October 27 in which she claimed that she married Ali of her own free will and converted to Islam. On November 2, she was recovered on the orders of the Sindh High Court and shifted to a shelter home. Her husband was arrested and remanded into police custody.

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