The first positive result has been obtained in the Arzoo Raja affair, the 13-year-old Catholic girl of Karachi, Pakistan, abducted last October 13, persuaded to abandon her faith and to marry her 44-yer-old Muslim abductor Ali Azhar. Arzoo was liberated in fact by the police force and led to a shelter house, at the same time as her kidnapper was taken into custody. The Sindh High Court has now ordered that the adolescent be present in the courtroom on the occasion of the forthcoming November 5 hearing.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which is covering the legal fees for the defense of the minor, is happy with the decision assumed by the Judicial Authority and the assured assistance of lawyer Tabassum Yousaf. Above all we now hope that the victim will be properly supported after the very grave trauma suffered. However, Arzoo’s release doesn’t mean that the judicial proceedings are definitively concluded with the hoped-for success. Hence, it’s necessary to verify what the subsequent decisions of the competent court will be, trusting in the application of the Child Marriage Act, which defines illegal the marriages of minors.
Above all, it’s necessary to remember that it’s not an isolated case. The scourge of kidnappings, of forced conversions, and of child-brides involves every year thousands of adolescents belonging to religious minorities, first of all, the Christian. According to some estimates, the numbers are even greater. Numerous political representatives in Pakistan, including Muslims — and many belonging to communities affected these days by this drama –, are courageously raising their voices publicly to denounce such crimes and to invoke the existing norms of protection or the approval of other more appropriate ones.
However, this is not enough. It’s necessary to add to this the pressure from the civil society, from the media, and from Western institutions. Only in this way will it be possible to defeat the influence of Islamist extremism on Pakistan’s institutions, influence that in many cases prevents them from carrying out the principal duty, namely, to protect the victims.