Pakistan: Abducted Christian girl is safe

ARZOO RAJA, a 13-year-old Catholic girl from Karachi in southern Pakistan who was abducted and forced to marry, is safe. As reported by media sources in Pakistan, following a hearing on Nov. 2, the Sindh High Court ordered the police to rescue the girl from the family of her alleged kidnapper and take her to a women’s shelter. The court also ordered an investigation to determine the age of the young Christian. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will bear the attorney’s fees for Arzoo and is supporting her family.

As reported by Pakistani sources, Ali Azhaar, the 44-year-old Muslim man who allegedly abducted the girl on Oct. 13 and then forced her to convert and to marry him, has been placed under arrest. Two brothers and a friend of the accused have been arrested and charged as accessories. The next court hearing was set for Nov. 5.

Arzoo at her FIrst Communion
Arzoo at her First Communion

“We are very happy about this fortunate and fast development in the case of Arzoo Raja,” said Regina Lynch, project director at ACN International. “The recent decision represents a success for the constitutional state of Pakistan and for the many people from all religious groups who are working to end forced marriages. We hope and have faith that law and justice will again prevail in the upcoming hearings. What is important now is that the traumatized girl receives good care. ACN is helping where it can.”

According to human rights organizations, about 1,000 Christian and Hindu women and girls are abducted and forced into marriage every year in Pakistan. A law restricting child marriages was adopted in Pakistan in 2014; it gives family members and those affected the legal basis to take action in court if such incidents occur.

The case of Arzoo Raja sparked numerous protests from Christians, Muslims and Hindus. The Pakistani Minister for Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, intervened in the case. As reported by Pakistan’s daily newspaper Dawn, the governor of the Sindh province, Imran Ismail, declared in a meeting with members of religious minorities that “there can be no compromise on cases involving underage marriage.”

—Tobias Lehner