Arzoo Raja is escorted to Singh High Court in Karachi on Nov. 9. (Photo: Nadim Bhatti)
The president of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, the human rights arm of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference, has called on judges to hand over custody of a Catholic child bride to her parents.
Father Emmanuel Yousaf, who flew to Karachi from Lahore to attend a court hearing in the Arzoo Raja case, made the remarks during a talk with media on Nov. 23.
Arzoo, a 13-year-old resident of Railway Colony, was allegedly abducted, forcibly converted and married to a 44-year-old Muslim man.
In its short order, Sindh High Court ruled that Arzoo cannot go with her alleged husband because of her tender age and ordered her back to a shelter home.
The court designated a female government welfare officer to meet Arzoo at least once a week and look after her mental and physical well-being so that “she may ponder over her life choices.”
Commenting on the developments, Father Yousaf said: “We pray that the girl is sent back to her parents as early as possible. It is the right of her parents to have custody of her. She is minor and it has been proven medically that she is around 14. She can neither convert nor enter into a marriage.
“The court should itself issue an order in this regard. We have already set this precedent in Punjab in several cases. I have come from Lahore and will also provide proof on how courts in Punjab sent minors back to their parents.
“We will have no problem if any adult wants to convert or marry. It is up to an individual when he or she is 18. It is a forced marriage and forced conversion.”
The priest thanked the media for the positive role it played in highlighting the issue.
“It is not a Christian-Muslim dispute. It is a matter of fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution for Pakistanis. As citizens of Pakistan, we will continue to raise our voices until justice is delivered. Parents deserve justice, but most importantly the girl deserves it. She may have been brainwashed or pressured to take this step,” Father Yousaf said.
“I hope that the court will rule in favor of the parents. I appeal to everyone to work for justice and implement the law of the land.”
Father Saleh Diego, the official spokesman for the Arzoo Raja case, maintained that no minor, as per Pakistani law, can convert to any religion.
“We expected the court to pass an order that Arzoo, being a minor, return to her parents instead of going back to the shelter home. The court should have rejected her statement based on her age,” he said.
The vicar general of Karachi Archdiocese also urged judges to allow Arzoo's parents to meet her in the shelter home freely.
“But our only prayers and demand are that Arzoo return to her parents immediately,” Father Diego added.