11/10/2020, 16.47
PAKISTAN
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Karachi court annuls Arzoo's marriage: she is only 14

by Shafique Khokhar

The girl was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married against her will. Her alleged husband, Ali Azhar, 44, said she is of an adult. A medical board established the girl's age, which fits with her birth certificate. For religious minority leaders, the government must guarantee people’s rights, especially those of girls.

Karachi (AsiaNews) – Arzoo Raja, a Christian girl who was abducted, converted to Islam and wedded to a Muslim, cannot remain married to Ali Azhar, 44, because she is only 14 years old.

According to the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2013, a marriage is not legal if one of the two parties is under the age of 18.

This morning, the court heard the report by the special medical board that examined Arzoo to determine her age. Based on her appearance and an ossification test, she is aged 14 to 15. Her alleged husband and his family tried to claim that she was 18.

The test results match the girl’s birth certificate, which says that she was born on 31 July 2007. The court therefore ruled that Arzoo cannot return to her alleged husband.

However, the girl doesn't want to go back to her parents either. Following the court order, policewomen took her to the Panah Shelter Home where she can live and study in safety.

Card Joseph Coutts, Archbishop of Karachi, condemned the abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of girls from minority communities, noting that they are increasingly frequent.

Reacting to the court decision, Card Coutts, Bishop Kaleem John of the (Anglican) Church of Pakistan), and the leaders of Pentecostal, Baptist and other Churches issued a joint statement.

In it, they say that "Unfortunately, in Pakistan there are many cases like those of Arzoo and Huma that are not reported.” However, thanks to Sindh’s “Child Marriage Restraint Act we can demand that the government take serious notice of these incidents,” which have “angered and upset Pakistan’s minorities.”

“We appreciate the law against forced conversions, introduced back in 2016 by the Sindh Provincial Assembly which has not been passed yet. The government must work to safeguard the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan as enshrined in our constitution.” 

Saleh Diego, Vicar General of Karachi and director of Justice and Peace, also urged the government to guarantee justice and protection to the most vulnerable sectors of society, especially young girls.

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