© Fides

High Court of Sindh Confirms Criminal Offense of ‘Child Marriage’ in Case of Underage Catholic in Pakistan

Arzoo Raja is Between 14 and 15 Years Old

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«According to the report of the medical commission set up on 5 November, the Catholic girl Arzoo Raja is between 14 and 15 years old; the judges checked her details on her birth certificate, issued by the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) of Pakistan and her school certificate, confirming that the girl is a minor. The High Court of Sindh has ordered the girl to stay in a state home for two weeks, until the next hearing on Monday 23 November», said Arzoo Raja’s parents’ lawyer, Muhammad Jibran Nasir, following the hearing on November 9 in Karachi on the case of a Catholic girl who was kidnapped, converted and forcibly married to a Muslim man, reported Fides News Agency. The Court officially recognizes that this is a case of «early marriage», prohibited by law.

According to the Lawyer «the issue of child marriage was addressed at the current hearing. The Sindh Marriage Act 2013 prohibits the marriage of children under the age of 18 and provides punishment for those involved in child marriage, including the person who arranges the marriage and the child’s guardian». Nasir adds: «The judges also ordered the investigative police force to identify the people involved in this child marriage, in particular, those who produced false documents declaring an underage girl to be 18 years old and those who organized and actually carried out the marriage».

The lawyer informs: «The court defined the marriage as a child marriage and ruled that the girl must remain in a home as the girl has refused to go to her parents and has asked to return to her alleged husband Ali Azhar, her kidnapper «. According to the lawyer, «the girl is still traumatized. The way in which she was kidnapped, forced into marriage and abused suggests that Arzoo has suffered violent physical and psychological trauma and needs time to recover».

Ghazala Shafiq, Christian human rights activist, speaking to Fides, said: «On behalf of the Church, civil society and the Christian community, we are grateful to the government of Sindh and the Court for initiating this process and listening to the complaints of the parents of the kidnapped Catholic minor. The order to take the kidnapped girl into custody within three days, and the order to quickly set up a medical commission and conduct the necessary tests to determine the correct age, testify the Government and the Court’s support».

Meanwhile, Christian groups and movements, as well as civil society continue to hold peaceful demonstrations and protests calling for justice for Arzoo and all the girls who belong to religious minorities kidnapped and forced to convert and marry their kidnappers. The phenomenon, according to NGO data, affects at least a thousand Christian and Hindu girls every year.

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