On October 13, Ali Azhar, 45, kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and “married” Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl. On that same day, her parents registered a kidnapping case with local police.
Two days later, on October 15, “we were summoned to the station,” explained her father Raja Lal, “where we were shown documents which claimed that Arzoo was 18 and had willingly converted to Islam after marrying Ali Azhar.”
Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority records Arzoo as being born on July 31, 2007 and is therefore 13 years old. Sexual intercourse with girls under 16 is statutory rape and carries a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison in Pakistan.
Howeverm on October 27 the High Court of Sindh ruled in favour of the kidnapper/husband by relying on a Sharia stipulation that abrogates all the rules for those who convert to Islam. According to the court order,
“The petitioner [the 13-year-old] initially belonged to the Christian religion. However, after the passage of time, the petitioner understood and realized that Islam is a universal religion and she asked her parents and other family members to embrace Islam but they flatly refused.
“Subsequently she accepted the religion of Islam before the religious person of Madressah Jamia Islamia. After embracing Islam, her new name is Arzoo Faatima; per learned counsel, petitioner contracted her marriage to Azhar of her own free will and accord without duress and fear.”
On hearing this decision, Rita Masih, the girl’s mother — who was apparently banned from entering the courthouse and who, with her husband, had fallen at and “even touched the feet of police to meet their daughter” — cried for her daughter with open arms outside the courthouse: “Arzoo, come to your mama. He will kill you.” She eventually fainted on the pavement.
Earlier, when the girl saw and tried to go to her mother, her Muslim abductor/husband snatched and took her into the courtroom.
Discussing this matter, Samson Salamat, the Christian chairman of an interreligious organization, stated how he felt about the position taken by the court:
“I am distressed and disappointed with the position taken by the honorable court. A sexual act with a minor is felony even if she is willing. The court has validated a rape despite the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014 that punishes contractors of child marriage with up to three years’ imprisonment.
“Can a judge, an army officer or a Pakistani politician tolerate handing over their minor daughter to a middle-aged man? What is the future of minority girls in Pakistan? Our courts favor the powerful. We still don’t have strong calls from a joint minority platform on forced conversions.”
This is the second recent forced conversion and marriage of an underage Christian girl in Karachi.
To justify marriage to Huma Younus — a 14-year-old Christian girl who was also abducted, forced to convert to Islam, and wed to a Muslim man — on February 3, 2020, the Sindh high court in Karachi ruled that men may marry underage girls once they have their period, in direct compliance with Islamic sharia law, but against Karachi’s own laws.
“Our daughters are insecure and abused in this country,” Huma’s mother later remarked. “They are not safe anywhere. We leave them at schools or home but they are kidnapped, raped, humiliated, and forced to convert to Islam.”
Similarly, in August 2020, Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian girl, escaped from the home of Mohamad Nakash — her kidnapper, whom the Lahore High Court had recently ruled is her legitimate husband despite her and her family’s objections.
She fled to a police station, where she gave testimony that included how she was being “forced into prostitution” and “filmed while by being raped,” accompanied by threats that the video would be published unless she complied with the demands of her rapist/husband and friends. “They threatened to murder my whole family,” the girl said.
“My life was at stake in the hands of the accused and Nakash repeatedly raped me forcefully.” She and her family are currently in hiding.
In a separate incident of what is described as “religious hatred” in Pakistan, a Muslim man and his son beat and humiliated a Christian woman in public for arguing with him.
On October 12, Balqees Bibi, the Christian woman, called out in public to a relative — whose name is distinctly Christian — thereby angering Muhammad Abass Butt.
“Abbas was [always] full of religious hatred against my mother,” her son explained. “He often expressed his anger against Christians in the street, but everyone ignored him to avoid disputes.” On that day, “Abbas started abusing my mother saying, ‘Oh choori! Shut your mouth!’ When she argued with him, he slapped her and dragged her into the street.”
The report adds:
“Abbas was angry that Bibi, a person he considered socially lower than him due to her religious identity, had argued with him in public. As Abbas beat Bibi, he also used an extremely derogatory slur for Christians which labels them as untouchables. After the attack, Bibi and her family registered a police complaint against Abbas (FIR # 372/20). However, there police have yet to arrest Abbas or his son who reportedly joined his father in beating Bibi.”