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World News

13-year-old Catholic girl given to her abductor by Pakistani High Court

by Cara Bentley

A 13 year old Catholic girl has been forced to live with the man who abducted her by the Sindh High Court, with the judge saying she converted to Islam and married him of her own free will. 

The teenager, Arzoo Raja, went missing from her family home in Karachi on 13th October and her father told police in a First Information Report (FIR) that she was kidnapped.

Two days later, police summoned the family to say the abductor, Azhar Ali, a 44-year-old Muslim, who was already married with children, had produced a certificate of marriage to Arzoo, which said she was 18 and had converted to Islam. 

Her father claims that two of the abductor's brothers are employees of Sindh police. 
 
The Sindh High Court of Pakistan has now given custody of the girl to Azhar Ali and protests have been planned to call for justice and the end of underage marriage. 

 

Witnesses said Arzoo arrived at the court surrounded by dozens of Muslim women and men so she could not leave, and no one could reach her. 

They say when she tried to run to her mother, her husband held on to her arm tightly, preventing her from reaching her mum. 

Her mother was also not allowed to meet her and was only allowed in the court room when her solicitor arrived and insisted on taking her into the court room.  
 
Witnesses report that the judge did not bother to inspect the paper to check Azoo's age, but said that although she initially belonged to the Christian religion, after passage of time she understood and realised that Islam was the universal religion and had asked her parents to embrace Islam. 
 
Her new Islamic name is Arzoo Fatima and the judge ruled that she entered into marriage with Azhar Ali of her own free will.
 
He also asked for a notice to be issued that no arrest be made against Azhar Ali and his family and asked the police to provide protection to the "newly wedded wife". 

Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK ( an organisation working for Christians being persecuted in Pakistan) said: "It is a very sensitive matter for Pakistani Christians but sadly it is all falling on the deaf ears of the politicians and the authorities. 

"Very often young girls are threatened into giving statements to the court saying they have married and converted to Islam of their own free will. 

"But recently we have seen that two girls, Maira Shahbaz and Mahwish, who gave the same statement under duress, escaped their kidnapper and are living in hiding."
 
He said the government must interfere in Arzoo's case and ensure her safe custody to her parents. 

The parents joined forces with Aid to the Church in Need, who supported them with legal help and are campaigning for other girls in the same situation. 

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