She was converted to Islam and married to a 41-year-old man against her will, her parents say
A Karachi court has approved bail of the nikkah khwan who solemnised the marriage of 14-year-old Arzoo Raja with a 41-year-old man after her conversion to Islam.
Qazi Abdur Rasool was told to post bail of Rs50,000. The hearing was adjourned until November 16.
The two marriage witnesses wanted in the case are on the run.
Rights activists have said that Aarzoo’s case is one of the several alleged forced religious conversion cases that occur in Sindh.
Arzoo’s parents, who are Christians, say that she was kidnapped from home, converted and married to Syed Ali Azhar. He claims she converted and married him of her own free will.
On October 31, the parents filed a petition with a Karachi judicial magistrate seeking Aarzoo’s protective custody. Her father, Raja Masih, filed an FIR on October 13 after Arzoo was kidnapped from her home. The police later found that she had been married off to Azhar, who presented a nikkahnama, free-will affidavit and a Sanad-e-Islam certificate.
Arzoo’s parents said that she was forced into filing a petition in the Sindh High Court on October 27, in which she claimed that she married Ali of her free will and converted to Islam. On November 2, she was recovered on the orders of the Sindh High Court and sent to a shelter home. Her husband was arrested and remanded into police custody.
Arzoo later appeared before the high court and claimed she was 18, after which it formed a five-member board to determine her age. The board confirmed she is 14, after which the judges said that it is a child marriage.
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. 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 never passed.
Arzoo Raja case history and background
Arzoo’s parents had argued in their petition with the judicial magistrate 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.
The Sindh High Court had sent Arzoo to a shelter home and barred Azhar from meeting her. It said 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 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 after a previous hearing.