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Pakistani court orders return of converted child bride

Skepticism over release of teenager Arzoo Raja, who was abducted by a Muslim neighbor last year
Pakistani court orders return of converted child bride

Pastor Ghazala Shafique with the family of Arzoo Raja. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhury/UCA News)

Published: December 23, 2021 05:06 AM GMT
Updated: December 23, 2021 05:11 AM GMT

A Pakistani court has ordered the release of a teenage Christian girl who was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, married to her 44-year-old Muslim neighbor and later moved to a government-run shelter home.

Sindh High Court in Karachi on Dec. 22 also allowed Arzoo Raja to rejoin her family. However, the 13-year-old girl is now Arzoo Fatima.

“When we asked the petitioner whether she had converted to Islam of her own free will, she replied in the affirmative,” stated the order.

“The parents of Arzoo Fatima undertook that they will not pressure her to change her religion from Islam and would allow her to practice her religion freely and adopt her own life choices in this respect They have undertaken that they would not cause any harm (either physical or mental) to their daughter for converting to Islam.”

The court ordered her parents to produce her before police every three months until she turns 18 to certify if she is being treated well. It prohibited Fatima from meeting her alleged husband, Ali Azhar, who is facing trial under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act and for the offence of zina (adultery).

The age requirement for marriage is currently 16 in all Pakistan's provinces except the southern province of Sindh, where it is 18.  

We don’t know whether to cry or express joy after seeing these photos. Remember Arzoo Raja is now a Muslim

Arzoo was abducted, converted to Islam and married off to Azhar in Karachi last year. Her parents launched a complex legal battle seeking her custody and annulment of what they believe was a forced child marriage and religious conversion.

According to the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice, at least 38 cases of forced conversions involved underage non-Muslim girls this year.

Social media users shared varying opinions on the latest court verdict. “Celebrating reunion of the family. Arzoo is happily received by the family,” stated pastor and rights activist Ghazala Shafique in a Facebook post sharing photos with her.

However, Ijaz Ghauri, central president of the Pakistan Minority Rights Commission in Islamabad, was skeptical. “We don’t know whether to cry or express joy after seeing these photos. Remember Arzoo Raja is now a Muslim,” he stated in a Facebook post.

Church of Pakistan Bishop Azad Marshall, president of the National Council of Churches, concurred.

“Why should they keep circling around police stations? This doesn’t meet the demands of justice. Our voices are suppressed by allegations of highlighting fake cases. The state doesn’t know our needs. We are planning to open a church-run shelter home and a call center for the victims of forced conversions,” he said.

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