Lawyer Jibran Nasir (right) and Arzoo Raja's parents speak to the media after a hearing at Sindh High Court on Nov. 23. (Photo supplied)
A Pakistani high court has ordered a teenage Catholic child bride to remain in a state-run shelter home until she reaches the age of 18.
The order came during a final case hearing before Sindh High Court on Nov. 23.
Arzoo Raja, 13, was allegedly abducted, converted to Islam and married off to a 44-year-old man, her Muslim neighbor, in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi last month.
Her parents launched a complex legal battle seeking her custody and annulment of what they believe was a forced child marriage and religious conversion.
In the previous hearing, a medical board established by Sindh High Court confirmed that Arzoo was 13.
The court ruled that Arzoo cannot enter into a valid marriage under the law and sent her to a shelter home after she refused to go home and insisted that she had married Ali Azhar of her free will.
“Today the Sindh High Court has disposed of the case, which was primarily filed by Arzoo’s abductors in her name,” said Jibran Nasir, the lawyer for Arzoo’s parents.
“The court denied all their [abductors’] prayers regarding Arzoo’s custody, legality of the marriage and cancellation of the case filed by her parents.
“On the other hand, an FIR [first information report] by her father has not been quashed and instead Section 375(5) for statutory rape of a minor has been added. Arzoo will remain in the shelter home and reconsider her decision to not live with her parents.”
The court directed the home secretary to assign an officer from the Social Welfare Department to ensure Arzoo's well-being.
“We will now file proceedings in the relevant court for taking child custody. While considering why even after so many days Arzoo Raja still tells courts that she doesn't want to live with her parents, we must remember that not only the accused but also certain community activists have been brainwashing Arzoo for ulterior motives,” Nasir said.
Arzoo’s parents, Raja Lal Masih and Rita Masih, expressed their satisfaction with the outcome of the court proceedings.
“We are thankful to the judges, courts, Pastor Ghazala and Jibran for justly and swiftly deciding the case on merit. We trust our legal team and are fully confident that we will also get her custody,” they told media.