The Ongoing Story of Arzoo Raja

On October 13, Azhar Ali, a Muslim man of about 45 years old who lives in the house opposite 13-year-old Christian Arzoo, kidnapped her outside her own home in Karachi, Pakistan. Two days later, Arzoo’s parents were told that their daughter had been the latest victim of forced conversion and forced marriage. The police showed little willingness to help the family and the family had little hope of getting their daughter back.

According to the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Pakistan Hindu Council every year about 1000 Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan are kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married to their kidnappers or rapists.

In February, the Supreme Court in Sindh ruled that the marriage of a 14-year-old Catholic girl named Huma Younas to her kidnapper was valid under Sharia law. According to Sharia law, girls are allowed to marry if they have had their period. Huma has been in the hands of her abductor since October 2019, where she is likely to be abused on a daily basis. Huma’s parents continue to sue for the release of their daughter.

No support from police

Azhar is the kidnapper of 13-year-old Arzoo. Arzoo’s father said, “Because Azhar has relatives working for the police, we receive a lot of resistance to get Arzoo back. The birth certificate and school registration clearly show that Arzoo is 13 years old. She was in seventh grade. At the police station we were handed documents stating that Arzoo was 18 years old, had converted to Islam and was married to Azhar Ali. ”

At first, Arzoo’s parents received no support from the police. The police are generally biased. Arzoo’s parents are poor and Christian. The police take little or no action to help poor Christian people. However, if a wealthier Muslim had been the victim, the police would likely have acted quickly by sending a police team to find the girl and the culprit.

In addition, Arzoo’s father fights against the feeling of Muslims that they should not abandon their Muslim brothers for the benefit of a Christian. It is also widely accepted in society that a Muslim is a hero if he converts a Christian to Islam, even if the convert is a minor and her conversion has been forced.

According to the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Pakistan Hindu Council every year about 1000 Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan are kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married to their kidnappers or rapists.

The weak position of Christians in society is well known among Muslims. This makes it more common for Christian girls to be kidnapped. It is very unlikely that the police will punish the perpetrator. Arzoo’s father tells how shameless Azhar was. “Azhar and his family live right across from us. We see them every day knowing they kidnapped our daughter and probably know where Arzoo and Azhar are now. Why is the police not doing anything? ”

Conversion to Islam

A big problem in this kind of kidnapping case is the religious aspect. It is very easy to convert to Islam as a Christian. Society supports this in many ways. Even for Arzoo, who was 13 years old, her forced conversion was quickly arranged by a mosque. The largely false paperwork was quickly arranged. However, if a Muslim converts to another religion, the government does not recognize this and the convert also risks being murdered or charged with blasphemy, which carries the death penalty.

Christian National Member of Parliament for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Naveed Amir, tells Jubilee Campaign that there is a belief among many Muslims that it is their duty to convert Christian and Hindu girls to Islam. They see this as part of jihad. For that reason, Arzoo’s father experienced a lot of resistance from the police, politicians, society and the legal system to get his daughter back.

Naveed explains that no proper laws have yet been passed and implemented to prevent this practice. Naveed explains: “This is partly because there is too little political will to help minorities. Problems experienced by minorities are not a priority on the political agenda. In addition, there is a lot of reluctance to guarantee the rights of minorities if this means a curtailment for Islam. According to Islam and Sharia, girls are allowed to marry once they have their period. It is no problem for them if a 13-year-old girl marries an older man. If the girl also converted from Christianity to Islam because of this, this is a kind of bonus. Muslims do not want to see this practice curtailed. ”

Because Arzoo, like many other girls who have been kidnapped, became Muslim, even under duress, Sharia law applies. Also in the hearing on October 24, the judge mentioned that according to Sharia law, Arzoo does not have to be of age to get married. When a girl has her period she is old enough to get married. On that basis, Arzoo’s marriage as a 13-year-old girl, to Azhar, about 45 years old, would be valid.

Parallel legal realities

In court, in such a situation, the attorney can cite the Child Marriage Restraint Act. This is a law that prohibits the marriage of girls under 18 years old.

It is not certain what the outcome of the judge will be.

Arzoo’s father says he went to a local Islamic foundation that stands up against injustice. There he was told that it was acceptable for 13-year-old girls to marry and convert. The girl’s will is irrelevant. The message was that Arzoo’s father must accept his daughter’s conversion and marriage. Arzoo’s father experiences a lot of resistance from the Islamic society. “According to Islam it is not a problem if young girls get married. In addition, Muslims are received as heroes if they have converted a Christian girl to Islam. Where can I go to be heard? ”

The prominent lawyer, Saif-ul Malook, said that although Sharia law permits the marriage of an underage girl after she has had her first period, the marriage must be ratified by the girl’s guardian.

“There is no way a court can endorse a marriage to a minor unless it is supported by the girl’s legal guardian,” Malook said.

“Marriage is governed by the Contract Act, in which no minor can enter into any contract or agreement without the express approval of her guardian. In this particular case, the court must assess whether the girl’s legal guardian has consented to her marriage, even if it is an act under Sharia law. ”

Malook said kidnapping of underage girls for forced conversion and marriage is a major problem in Pakistan. He added that legislation should have been in place long ago to oppose this practice.

Support for Arzoo

Arzoo’s family is lucky. Her case has received a lot of attention in Pakistan. Several Christian and Hindu politicians, organizations and people of position have spoken out on her cause, advocating for her return to her family.

At the October 24 hearing, the court was inundated with Christians and Hindus demanding Arzoo’s release. All the attention has put the police under pressure to take action.

Because the perpetrators are ultimately not convicted, Muslims will continue to kidnap Christian girls. This is the sad reality in Pakistan.

Due to outside pressure Sindh High Court on November 2 directed the provincial government to shift Raja to a shelter home.

There are many girls like Arzoo who have been kidnapped and are still under the control of their kidnapper. They will probably never return to their families.

Perpetrator convicted?

It would be nice if Arzoo’s kidnapper were convicted for his actions. This would send a strong signal to other Muslims who plan to kidnap, convert, and marry underage girls.

However, it often happens that the girl’s family will drop the charges once the girl is returned to the family. In Arzoo’s case, the parents are poor and have no money to just leave their home and start a new life somewhere. If the lawsuit went through, they would likely be under severe pressure from the perpetrator, his family and various Muslim groups. The family then drops the charges out of fear.

Because the perpetrators are ultimately not convicted, Muslims will continue to kidnap Christian girls. This is the sad reality in Pakistan.

– Mirjam Bos, with Jubilee Campaign

Jubilee Campaign together with the Pakistani Voice for Justice foundation is in direct contact with Arzoo’s father. We have provided financial support to the family and consulted with them on how we could help them. Demonstrations took place all over the country on October 24. Jubilee Campaign has provided banners and summoned Pakistani Christians to take to the streets to advocate for the freedom of Arzoo and so many other girls who suffer the same fate. We have also spoken to several Pakistani politicians about Arzoo’s case. In this way, the Pakistani parliament is urged to make laws against these types of practices.