October 26th, 2020 

By Sher e Azam


the forced conversion of a 13-year-old Christian girl Arzoo Raja and her ‘free-will’ marriage to a 44-year-old man Azhar Ali in the city has led to protests and consternation in the Christian community and rights activists in the country.

The distraught parents of the girl have appealed to the government and human rights organization to come to their rescue. In a protest against the forced conversion by activists and family members outside Karachi Press Club, Qayuum Bahadur, uncle of Arzoo Raja, says the case of her niece was not the first incident of forced conversion which have been reported periodically in the country. “We appeal to the government and the Chief Justice of Pakistan to order recovery of Arzoo Raja from her abductors,” Bahadur says. The demonstrators voiced their resentment against Raja’s forced conversion and violation of the Child Marriage Act. Ghazala Shafique, member of the Pakistan Minority Rights Commission, says Christian and Hindu girls everyday are becoming victims of this barbarity. “The girls are kidnapped, sexually assaulted and forcibly converted and married off to older men,” Shafique claims. She believes such incidents are attempts to commit genocide of the minorities in the country. Despite laws forbidding underage marriage of girls, how come a 13-year-old is married without a guardian under the pretext of free will,” she questions authorities. The first information reports in such cases mention abduction but do not carry offences of underage marriage, rape and forced conversion in order to protect the perpetrators, Shafique claims.

Nuzhat Shirin, Chairperson of Sindh Commission on Status of Women, says police must immediately file a case under Early Marriage Act against the accused and Islam forbids forced conversion of any person. “Under Early Marriage Act, police must arrest all the accused persons in the case comprising all those involved in the forced conversion and the man who married the girl and his parents,” Shirin demands.

Political leader Ruma Mushtaq says the Constitution forbids forced conversion of any citizen in the country. “Our Muslim brethren and sisters in the country are also opposed to forced conversions followed by marriages,” she says, adding that protests and demonstrations will continue till Arzoo Raja is freed from the clutches of her alleged abductors.

Lawyers also condemn the forced conversion and marriage of the Christian girl saying it was unfortunate that the forced conversion and child marriage took place in the presence of a judge. The lawyers questioned how come a judge allowed the girl’s marriage without a valid national identity card and at an early age. The lawyers called for a probe into the judge’s conduct. “If somebody is married forcibly, its tantamount to sexual assault under the law. The judge should have questioned why a 13-year-old child was marrying a 44-year-old man in the absence of her parents too,” says Nadia Noor, a lawyer in the city courts. According to Tabbasum Yousaf, an advocate of Sindh High Court, early marriage is forbidden under the law. The Arzoo Raja’s case is a violation of the Constitution and the prevailing laws. The judge should have viewed these legal provisions before pronouncing his verdict, she says. “Whether free will or not  the marriage (Nikah) of any 13-year-old girl or a boy has no legal basis,” says Noor. Under sections 4, 5 and 8 of the Sindh Marriage Restraint Act, any such early marriage is an offence, she says. The documentations in Arzoo Raja’s case are from the National Database and Registration Authority and the date of birth on the certificates has not been forged by her parents, she adds. Tabbasum Yousaf regrets that the girl’s parents were not given any protection and relief.

On the other hand, Frere Police Station officials had filed an FIR under the charge of kidnapping against unknown persons on the complaint of Arzoo’s father Raja. Subsequently, a birth certificate of Arzoo Raja was produced before a court. The judge had summoned Azhar Ali and Arzoo Rajha but both of them did not turn up before the court. The forced conversion and marriage has caused great resentment and anguish in the Christian community which has called upon authorities to take measures for their protection guaranteed under the Constitution.