ISLAMABAD: After the recent case of abduction, forced conversion, and marriage of 13-year-old Arzoo in Karachi, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) has expressed great anger over the rising incidents of abduction forced conversion, and forced marriage of young girls from the minority community.
The Commission on Thursday said that it is unfortunate that religious intolerance in Pakistan is sharply rising. It said that forced conversion has become a major tool for the persecution of Christians and Hindus in Pakistan.
The Christian girl Arzoo was kidnapped in front of her home in Karachi’s Railway Colony on the morning of October 13, 2020. When her family failed to find her, they registered a kidnapping case at the local police station.
On October 15, the police summoned the family to the police station where they were shown marriage documents which claimed that she was 18-year-old and had willingly converted to Islam and married 44-year-old Ali Azhar.
According to the Church and official government (NADRA) documents, Arzoo is 13 years old and is a 6th-grade student. Her abductor forced her to marry him and convert to Islam.
Arzoo’s parents challenged the validity of the marriage and appealed to the High Court of Sindh Karachi to have their daughter returned. On October 27, 2020, the abductor along with his supporters petitioned the High Court.
The order issued by the High Court of Sindh (SHC) in Karachi supporting the abductor stated that Arzoo Raja accepted Islam and married Ali Azhar willfully.
The Court also ordered that no arrests be made in this case.
The NCJP strongly condemned this act of injustice.
In a joint statement, the Chairperson NCJP Archbishop Dr. Joseph Arshad and the National Director NCJP Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf (Mani) said that “Unfortunately Pakistani society has become increasingly intolerant and living as a religious minority is becoming extremely challenging.”
Arzoo’s case is a reported one while there are many such incidents that do not get reported. Arzoo’s family has produced her government birth certificate that proves she is 13 years old and that the marriage to Azhar violates the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act”.
The NCJP demanded that the government take serious notice of this incident that has angered and upset the entire Christian Community in Pakistan.
The Bishop of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, President Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and the Chairperson National Commission for Justice and Peace Joseph Arshad said that “Forced conversions are too easily and too often disguised as voluntary conversions, leaving minor girls especially vulnerable”.
Joseph Arshad demanded that the government must ensure that justice is served in the case of Arzoo and that such incidents stop.
“It is the responsibility of the state to legislate to protect its citizens, especially minor girls,” he said.
Rev Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf (Mani) said that “The ugly reality of forced conversions is that they are not seen as a crime, much less as a problem that should concern majority in Pakistan. We cannot allow our children and girls to be taken away from us, forcibly converted, and married. A bill against forced conversions was introduced back in 2016 in the Sindh Provincial Assembly which has not been passed yet. The government must work to safeguard the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan as enshrined in our Constitution”.