The Sindh court has handed the custody of 13-year-old Arzoo to her 44-year-old kidnapper, who forcibly converted her.
A 2014 report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP) suggests that around 1,000 women in Pakistan are forcibly converted every year (700 Christian and 300 Hindu). These figures are alarming on their own, and even more harrowing when a story unfolds before our very eyes.
Update (November 3, 2020): Spokesman for the Sindh Government, Murtaza Wahab announced last evening that 13-year-old Arzoo Raja had been recovered and sent to a shelter home. Earlier on November 2, Sindh High Court had ordered for Arzoo to be recovered and ensured that she is safely kept away from her alleged kidnapper.
In a video, Arzoo has claimed that she willingly converted to Islam and married the 44-year-old man and also claimed that she was 18 years old and not 13, therefore, of legal age to be married. Activist and her parents allege that she is being forced to make that statement.
A 13-year-old girl, Arzoo Raja became a victim of forced conversion when she was abducted by a 44-year-old man, Azhar Ali
The incident happened in Karachi where Azhar Ali kidnapped the child, forcibly converted her, and married her.
Arzoo Raja, a 13 year-old Christian girl, was taken from her home and forced into a child marriage with a 45 year-old Muslim man. pic.twitter.com/ycN9IkPdU9
— Siaasi Aurtain – سیاسی عورتیں (@SiaasiAurtain) October 28, 2020
The predicament still doesn’t end here. The Sindh High Court has handed the custody of Arzoo to the same kidnapper, despite clear evidence that she was under-age
13-yr-old Christian girl Arzoo Raja is kidnapped in Karachi,converted & married to a 44-yr-old man.A court, on basis of affidavit signed under duress, sent her with him, despite docs confirming her age.Many even celebrate.Who'll take us seriously when we're drenched in hypocrisy? pic.twitter.com/uh22zxM7vD
— Bilal Farooqi (@bilalfqi) October 29, 2020
The court order blatantly states that Arzoo has converted to Islam and contracted marriage on her own ”free will”
The court also ordered the police not to arrest Azhar and the other persons nominated in the FIR by the girl’s family and to ensure the security of the couple.
Her birth certificate issued by NADRA clearly states that she is merely a 13-year-old child
And a minor could easily be pressured into conversion and marriage.
People are clearly outraged at this unjust decision
kidnapper to be legal. she is a child who was raped, forced to convert and marry the rapist/kidnapper. in what world is that legal? the only defence families of girls being forcefully converted have most times is the age limit, when the victim is a minor. but the court a lot of
— cocomo stan ᶻ+⁹¹ (@dusktillfajar) October 29, 2020
Just a reminder that Arzoo Raja is still in the “legal” custody of her abusers while the rest of us are happily getting along with our lives. This has to stop. Something has to be done.
— Usman (@UsmanAhmad_iam) October 30, 2020
The laws, the constitution and the leaders do everything in their power to suppress the minorities in Pakistan.
Arzoo Raja’s case is one of the hundreds that never see the light of media and/or courts. https://t.co/iJrpkA0FTz
— soha (@SohaTazz) October 29, 2020
They are questioning the system that allows such breaches of human rights
How can any adult in any institution tolerate & allow this 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/E34XNDcwwr
— Reham Khan (@RehamKhan1) October 29, 2020
Courts are compromised to the core in Sindh, they are too afraid of Mullahs and their pressure. Most rather all of the #ForcedConversion victims are minor, yet still no court has ever sent them back to their parents. They become the tool to legalise the abduction and rape. https://t.co/BdqKh8zAsD
— Shama Junejo (@ShamaJunejo) October 29, 2020
Arzoo Raja's case must wake our national conscience. 13-year-old Christian girl abducted by a 44-year-old Muslim man for forced marriage isn't the only evil thing. The behavior of the courts and the lawyers is ridiculous. They just threw her right back at the kidnapper!
— Meraj Hasan (@_merajhasan) October 29, 2020
Do we have my standing to demand justice internationally when such horrors occur back home?
The #ArzooRaja rape and forced marriage is centrally about neofascist Sunnism. Like Brahminical patriarchy in India, this is Sunni-fundamentalist patriarchy where women of otherized minorities are seen as non-human, ageless commodities to be raped and plundered and possessed 1/2
— kartidharti (@nosheenali) October 30, 2020
In the case of 13 year old #ArzooRaja (official documents confirm her age) the abductors and rapist, the madressa, the police and court officials seem to be colluding in favour of a man using religion to be able to rape a child. The man who 'married' her has brothers who are cops
— Zarrar Khuhro (@ZarrarKhuhro) October 28, 2020
This case is getting attention in the international community as well. Australian actor, Nathaniel Buzolic also shared the same on Instagram, demanding justice for Arzoo and many like her.
The white part of our flag stands for minorities as equal citizens of Pakistan. Arzoo’s case is one of the many cases of forced conversions in Pakistan, that is eventually brushed off under the rug. Basic empathy and humanity should dictate raising our voice against such obvious human rights violations. The authorities should actively work to make Pakistan a place where citizens do not feel threatened due to their faith. Till then, let’s raise our voice till Arzoo gets back to her family.
Editor’s note: the post has been updated to reflect the Sindh High Court ordered recovery of Arzoo Raja and the arrest of her alleged husband as well as the video statement by Arzoo claiming she is of marriageable age and converted of her free will.
Cover image via @bilalfqi/ @njtashu via Twitter