Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Catholic girl from Karachi in southern Pakistan who was abducted and forced to marry, is safe. As reported by media sources in Pakistan, following a hearing on 2 November, the Sindh High Court ordered the police to rescue the girl from the family of her alleged kidnapper and take her to a women’s shelter. The court also ordered an investigation to determine the age of the young Christian. The international pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will bear the attorney’s fees for Arzoo and is supporting her family.
As reported by Pakistani sources, Ali Azhaar, the 44-year-old man who allegedly abducted the girl on 13 October and then forced her to convert and to marry him, has been placed under arrest. Two brothers and a friend of the accused have been arrested and charged as accessories. The next court hearing has been set for 5 November.
“We hope that justice will prevail at the next court hearings”
“We are very happy about this fortunate and fast development in the case of Arzoo Raja,” explained Regina Lynch, Project Director at ACN International. “The recent decision represents a success for the constitutional state of Pakistan and for the many people from all religious groups who are working to end forced marriages. We hope and have faith that law and justice will again prevail in the upcoming hearings. What is important now is that the traumatised girl receives good care. ACN is helping where it can.”
According to human rights organisations, about 1,000 Christian and Hindu women and girls are abducted and forced into marriage every year in Pakistan. A law restricting child marriages was adopted in Pakistan in 2014; it gives family members and those affected the legal basis to take action in court if such incidents occur.
The case of Arzoo Raja sparked numerous protests from Christians, Muslims and Hindus. The Pakistani Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, intervened in the case. As reported by Pakistan’s daily newspaper Dawn, the governor of the Sindh province, Imran Ismail, declared at a meeting with members of religious minorities, “There can be no compromise on cases involving underage marriage.”