A 13-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan was reportedly kidnapped and forced to convert and marry a Muslim man, officials said.
The girl̵7;s recovery came almost a month after her parents alleged that she was kidnapped by Ali Azhar, 44.
The courts have not acted on it before because they accepted claims the girl made saying she was 18 and married on her own terms.
But pressure from lobbying groups and outcry from the public drove the action.
Leaders from the Catholic Church in Pakistan and human rights groups demanded a review of the court’s ruling, arguing the girl had been forced to make her statement after marriage. Protesters also took to the streets in the Pakistani city of Karachi.
On Monday, the Sindh Supreme Court ordered the police to find the teenager. She was reinstated later in the day and will be in custody until the November 5 trial.
Her alleged kidnapper was arrested later that same night and will appear in court on Tuesday.
The girl’s family first reported her disappearance on October 13. Two days later, according to the Catholic Foundation, Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (Claas), her father was notified that Ali presented a marriage certificate stating that she was 18 years old and converted to Islam.
The family assumed the identity papers were fake, but when the case went to court on October 27, the Sindh Supreme Court granted custody of the alleged kidnapper. The court also recommended protection from the girl’s family.
This decision has been condemned by human rights and religious groups. “It is the state’s responsibility … to protect its citizens, especially teenage girls,” Joseph Arshad, a local archbishop, told the Crux Now news agency at the time.
Father Saleh Diego, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Karachi, who also deals with forced conversion, told the Catholic News Agency that “a 13-year-old cannot make a decision about his or her religion. naive girl … [she] There is still a lot to learn about her own religion. “
In late October, the family’s lawyer Jibran Nasir said the girl’s parents had filed charges of harassment on her behalf.
The harassment lawsuit filed by her kidnappers on behalf of Arzoo, originally set for November 11, has now been revised on Monday November 2 on an emergency basis. Will represent Parents & will ask the court to provide Arzoo guardianship to the parents and conduct a medical examination as soon as possible pic.twitter.com/AP3nWEyr2e
– M. Jibran Nasir (@MJibranNasir) October 31, 2020
The Sindh Supreme Court initially rejected the application, but later reversed the decision after the protests. The girl is currently under the protection of the court, though Mr Nasir hopes she will be able to return to her family soon.
“[The] The safest place for a child is with its parents, “he said in a Twitter post.” Hope [the[ court will return her to [her] parents right after [the] next hearing. “
Child marriage is still common across South Asia, according to a recent United Nations report. In Pakistan, nearly 25% of women in their 20s were married by the time they were 18, the report found.