Church leaders in Pakistan are preparing to file a petition in court to adjudicate whether minors are able to legally convert from one religion to another. This petition comes as a Christian family in Karachi fights to have their 13-year-old daughter returned after she was abducted and forcefully married to her 44-year-old Muslim neighbour.
On October 13, Arzoo Raja who is from a christian home was abducted from her family home in Karachi by Ali Azhar, her Muslim neighbor. Arzoo’s parents reported the incident to local police and were informed two days later that their daughter converted to Islam and married Azhar.
Arzoo’s parents challenged the validity of the marriage claiming it violated the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. However, on October 27, the Sindh High Court ruled in favor of the marriage and order local police to protect Arzoo and Azhar.
On November 2, police were ordered by the Sindh High Court to recover Arzoo and arrest Azhar. This came after Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights became involved in the case as an intervener. Arzoo was taken to a women’s shelter and Azhar was arrested.
On November 9, the Sindh High Court found that Arzoo is a minor after she was examined by a medical board. With this finding, the Sindh High Court ruled that the marriage to Azhar violated the Sindh Child Marriage Act and instructed police to take action against Azhar and others involved in the marriage.
However, the Sindh High Court did not address the issue of Arzoo’s alleged conversion from Christianity to Islam. Instead of being returned to her family, Arzoo returned to the women’s shelter while the case has been adjourned for the next two weeks.
Father Saleh Diego, Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace in Karachi, announced the Catholic Church would be filing a petition to resolve the matter and have Arzoo returned to her family.
“We are filing a petition to resolve this matter once and for all,” Fr. Diego told the media. “In Pakistan, any child under the age of 18 follows or practices a religion which is followed by his or her parents. We have to fight this legally. Under the church and international laws, I don’t think any minor can change his or her religion.”
The outcry against the injustice done to Arzoo and the ongoing persecution of christians in Pakistan has jolted the legal bodies to fight for the rights of Pakistani christians, this action has encouraged these Christians who have suffered various levels of persecution.