A court in Pakistan returned custody of a 14-year-old Christian girl, who was kidnapped and forcefully converted to Islam in 2020, to her Christian family in Karachi.
Rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) reported that the Sindh High Court issued an order on December 22 to allow Arzoo Raja to return to the custody of her family.
The report quoting a news story on Morning Star News said the order was issued after Raja filed an application with the court requesting to move back with her Christian parents of her own free will.
“Our case was for the girl’s recovery, which has been granted,” said Jabran Nasir, who represents Raja’s parents.
On October 13, 2020, Raja’s parents reported their daughter was abducted from their home in the Railway Colony of Karachi, Pakistan.
Raja’s father reported the incident to local police and filed a First Information Report (FIR).
Two days later, on October 15, Raja’s family was summoned to the police station and informed that Raja had married Ali Azhar, a 44-year-old Muslim man, and had willingly converted to Islam.
Police claimed that Azhar produced a marriage certificate stating Raja’s age as 18.
Raja’s parents challenged the validity of the marriage in court claiming it violated the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act.
According to the law, marriages of minors under the age of 18 are illegal. To prove their claim, the couple produced a copy of Raja’s birth certificate documenting her age as 13.
The Sindh High Court, however, ruled in favor of the marriage, applying an interpretation of Sharia law that allows for underage marriages.
Raja’s parents challenged the ruling and Raja was forced to live in a shelter home while the court adjudicated her case.
With custody of Raja returned to her family, there is hope that Azhar will be held accountable for Raja’s abduction, forced marriage, and forced conversion, said the ICC.
“There is also hope that Raja will be allowed to return to her Christian faith if the conversion to Islam is proven to be forced,” it added.
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, forcefully married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.