The family of Arzoo Raja, a 14-year-old Christian victim of forced conversion, has decided to challenge the Sindh High Court’s order requiring them to report to the police station every three months until the child turns 18.
Arzoo, wearing a pink fur coat, appeared with leaders of the Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP) at a press conference at National Press Club in Islamabad on Jan 5. Citing psychotherapy, the organisers barred the child from addressing the media.
“Neither such kids nor their parents should visit police stations. They are already oppressed. Such restrictions are only for terrorists. We shall demand rules for the marriage of minority minors to prevent free-handedness in society,” said Abdul Hameed Rana, the counsel for Arzoo’s parents.
“It’s a sensitive topic in our society. Our minorities, including Christians, feel insecure. Neither the constitution nor the law protects changing the religion of an underage person.”
Arzoo, a resident of Railway Colony in Karachi, was allegedly abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married to her 44-year-old Muslim neighbor Syed Ali Azhar in 2020. Amid community protests, her parents launched a complex legal battle seeking her custody and annulment of what they believe was a forced child marriage and religious conversion.
Arzoo, who was living in a shelter house, was finally allowed by the Sindh High Court last month to rejoin her family.
The court also ordered her parents to produce her before police every three months until she turns 18 to certify if she is being treated well. It prohibited Arzoo from meeting her alleged husband, Ali Azhar, who is facing trial under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act and for the offence of zina (adultery).
The age requirement for marriage is currently 16 in all Pakistan’s provinces except the southern province of Sindh, where it is 18.
MAP Chairman Akmal Bhatti demanded legislation to protect minority girls.
“Kidnappers use religion to sexually abuse girls and escape charges of rape and abduction. Lower courts, police and inquiry departments become accomplice in this conspiracy. Shelter houses brainwash victims who then give statements under influence. Once they registered as Muslims in the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the challenges of documentation arise. Parents of the victim face difficulties in getting justice in prejudiced environment,” he said.
“SHC judgement is against Article 15 that guarantees freedom of movement. The kid will relive trauma in police station, it will affect her treatment. The court presumed she is not safe with her parents,” he said.
MAP is currently providing legal assistance to the family. Their delegation visited Archbishop Joseph Arshad, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, on Jan 6 and discussed several issues, including forced conversion and misuse of the blasphemy laws. The archbishop prayed for their struggle.
Christians in Pakistan have been seeking legislation against rampant abductions and forced conversions of underage girls. Every year around 1,000 women from religious minorities such as Christians and Hindus are allegedly forcibly converted and married to Muslims in Pakistan, MAP claims.
Bishop Azad Marshall, the moderator of the Church of Pakistan, called for the protection of minorities in Pakistan while addressing a press conference in Lahore on Jan. 4.
“Underage minority girls are being sexually exploited in the garb of religious conversion and marriage to their abductors. We have repeatedly called for stopping child rape in the name of religious conversion and demand that the government reconsiders its decision to reject the anti-forced conversion bill. This is not a religious issue but a matter of protection of the girl child,” he said.