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Protests grow in Pakistan over abduction of Catholic teen

Karachi's vicar general condemns 'shameful and deplorable' court decision to validate 13-year-old's marriage
Protests grow in Pakistan over abduction of Catholic teen

Christians protest at St. Patrick’s Church in Karachi on Oct. 28 against the abduction and forced conversion of Arzoo Raja. (Photo supplied)

Published: October 29, 2020 03:54 AM GMT
Updated: October 29, 2020 03:54 AM GMT

Christians have demonstrated across Pakistan against the abduction and forced conversion of a minor Catholic girl.

Arzoo Raja, 13, was abducted in broad daylight from outside her house in Karachi’s Railway Colony on October 13 while her parents were at work.

Days later, Arzoo’s parents were told by police that she had converted to Islam according to her own free will and married her 44-year-old abductor Ali Azhar.

Arzoo’s family lodged a police complaint and filed a petition in a local court to seek her safe return.

But in a shocking ruling on Oct. 27, Sindh High Court validated the child marriage and refrained police from arresting the prime suspect.

The verdict shocked and angered the country’s Christian minority, with many taking to the streets in Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad, Faisalabad and other cities.

Around 400 people, mostly Christians, gathered at St. Patrick’s Church in Karachi on Oct. 28 on the call of Cardinal Joseph Coutts to demand a fair trial and justice from the Sindh authorities, police and judiciary. 

Saleem Michael, a Catholic lawyer, strongly condemned the unlawful forced conversion of minority girls.

“The abduction of 13-year-old Arzoo Raja is a challenge to the state of Sindh. It is a challenge to the rule of law and justice. It is a challenge to law enforcement agencies. It is unfortunate that under the shadow of the Sindh High Court, a 44-year-old beast was holding an innocent girl,” said Michael amid chants of “Shame!” from the crowd.

“I want to make it clear to the magistrate hearing our case that we will not rest until we get justice for our daughters.

“The law clearly states that any girl between the age of 9 and 15 cannot contract marriage unless she is accompanied by her parents. Mr. Magistrate, you will have to read the law and if you don’t we will make sure you do.”

Father Saleh Diego, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Karachi, condemned the disturbing trend of the conversion of minority girls.

“Religious minorities living in Pakistan are concerned about the future of their daughters who are being converted to Islam. But why only girls? Are our boys not good enough for religious conversion? Why are they not so easily converted?” he asked.

“Arzoo is a minor girl who has still to learn about her own religion. How can she decide to accept Islam at her young age? This is unacceptable. This was all done under pressure. A 13-year-old cannot decide about her religion. She is an innocent girl whose statement should be declared null and void by the court.”

Father Diego said state-sanctioned documents including a birth certificate prove that Arzoo was born in 2007.

“How can police or a court deny this undeniable evidence? If our state doesn’t recognize official documents, it should shut down the national database regulatory authority [NADRA] for good,” he said.

“Whatever happened in the court was shameful and deplorable. It was all lies that the girl was being sent to a shelter home. The court, without checking or determining Arzoo’s age, ruled in favor of the abductors.

“We don’t know why the judge made this decision. Was it due to his faith? Was it due to any external pressure? Was he not appointed on merit?

“I received so many phone calls this morning. Many of our people had sleepless nights. I want to tell the international media, print media and social media that religious minorities are being subjected to discrimination. They should raise their voice for us.”

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