Police in Karachi, Pakistan on Monday (Nov. 2) recovered a 13-year-old Christian girl and arrested the Muslim accused of abducting and forcibly marrying and converting her.
Arzoo Raja was reunited with her family three weeks after she was reportedly abducted and forced to marry a Muslim.
The 13-year-old was reportedly abducted by 44-year-old Ali Azhar while she was playing outside of her home in Karachi.
The girl’s parents immediately alerted police who launched an investigation. On Oct. 15, law enforcement officers informed the parents that their daughter “married” Azhar, claiming the 13-year-old child had willingly converted to Islam, International Christian Concern reported.
The family asserted that the marriage documents were falsified. The case went to court on Oct. 27 and the judge granted custody of the girl to Azhar.
As the news circulated around town, leaders within the Catholic Church in Pakistan and human rights activists argued that the young teenager was likely coerced to marry her abductor after the high court of Sindh ruled to validate the marriage. A public protest ensued and demonstrators demanded that the courts intervene.
“It is the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens, especially minor girls,” said Joseph Arshad, a local archbishop.
On Nov. 2, the Sindh High Court ordered police to find the girl and she was located later on that same day. Azhar was arrested that evening and was due in court on Tuesday.
The young girl is currently in protective custody until a court hearing on Nov. 5.
The family’s attorney M. Jibran Nasir tweeted: “Safest place for a child is with her parents. Hopefully, Court will return her to parents soon after next hearing.”
Alhumdulillah #Arzoo has been traced & found & is being sent home to a shelter house as per Court Orders. Safest place for a child is with her parents when they aren’t not the offenders of crime of child marriage. Hopefully Court will return her to parents soon after next hearing https://t.co/WH1Mua1rSD— M. Jibran Nasir (@MJibranNasir) November 2, 2020
According to a 2014 study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian community are abducted, forcibly married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.
Pakistan ranks fifth on Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.