Forced conversion case: NADRA records don’t match age statement
Arzoo Raja, the young woman at the centre of an underage forced conversion case, appeared in the Sindh High Court Thursday after she was recovered by the police on November 2.
She told the court that she was 18 years old and married 44-year-old Syed Azhar Ali of her own choice. “No one kidnapped me. I don’t want to stay away from my husband” she said.
Raja’s parents say she is 13 years old and they have a NADRA birth certificate, NADRA registration, and a baptism certificate to prove it. The NADRA information says she was born on July 31, 2007.
The Sindh advocate general objected to Raja recording her statement as she is underage. Lawyer Jibran Nasir, who is representing Raja’s parents, argued that the case cannot move forward until her age has been confirmed. To determine her age, a two-judge bench of Justice KK Agha and Justice Amjad Ali Sahito, ordered the health secretary to form a medical board of experts.
“We have to look at this case from all angles,” remarked Justice Agha. The next hearing is on November 9.
The teenager’s parents were in court Thursday but they were unable to meet her because of her security. After the hearing, she was escorted by the police to a van and taken to the shelter home where she is staying.
Her father, Raja Masih, filed an FIR on October 13 after Arzoo 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. He is currently in police custody for four days.
Her parents have argued in their application 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 marriage of anyone under the age of 18 years is prohibited in the province under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013.
After the hearing, a crowd gathered around the media corner. Social workers, pastors, and the young woman’s relatives and friends chanted slogans of ‘Justice for Arzoo’. Some Christians accused the television cameras of not giving them coverage. “You just care about what Jibran Nasir says and you have forgotten about the parents,” said one man.
William Bhatti, who works as a security in-charge at a church in Korangi, remarked that the hearing has left them disappointed. “The media is giving selective coverage to only a few people,” he said. “She is constantly being harassed and the parents aren’t allowed to meet their child.”
He went on to say that the Christians were fearful for their daughters. “I have a five-year-old daughter and I can’t imagine what would happen if this happened to her. Such incidents break us from inside,” he remarked. Bhatti has been attending the hearings in solidarity with Raja’s parents.
All ministers and other officials have been meeting Raja but her parents have been waiting to meet her once, said Pastor Afzal Bashir. “This just shows how cruel our justice system is.”
Additional reporting by Abeer Mahar.