Arzoo,14 is a Christian girl who was abducted, raped, and forced to convert and marry her neighbour in Karachi Pakistan on March 29, 2021.
She is not the first girl. There are many minor girls and teens aged thirteen to sixteen, and even those still in childhood.
They are especially vulnerable if they are from a religious minority, in particular Hindu or Christian. There is a double bonus. Or maybe triple. You marry a young girl. You convert her to your faith. And you become a Hero in your community. No one can touch you because it will become a huge communal issue and you will emerge victorious because the large powerful majority is at your back and ready to turn everything upside down in your favour.
So Arzoo Raja is another victim of a thought that encourages the wooing of a little girl from a minority, to get not only a young bride, but the religious ‘credit’ guaranteed by the religious scholars for converting a non-Muslim to Islam.
She was too young. The records presented in the court say she is not more than 14.
The official age which allows a girl to marry with her own independent consent is 18 in Pakistan when she gets her National Identity Card.
Arzoo was young, as she used to play in the streets, tells her father Raja Lal Masih.
“He is our neighbour. He is 45. He used to give her candies in the street to win her trust.”
Raja doesn’t know how Arzoo got trapped by the middle-aged man while playing in the streets of a middle-class Karachi neighbourhood that has people from all ethnicities living there.
Her father was at his work on October 13 last year when he received a call from home that Arzoo was missing. His wife Rita was working as a maid at a school at that time.
Both rushed home and started the search for their daughter, but their search was in vain. That day was like doomsday for them.
They reached out to the police, but to no avail.
By evening, they were informed that their daughter had contracted a marriage with Syed Azhar Hussain, their neighbour. An official marriage document (Nikah Nama) was also presented to them by the police.
The case went to court. Arzoo’s parents claimed that their daughter was still a child and was trapped and kidnapped by Syed Azhar Hussain.
But Azhar Hussain claimed that she was an adult and married and converted to Islam out of her own free will.
On November 9, 2020, the court ruled that her maximum age is 14.
Her lawyer Jibaran Nasir said after the hearing that the age was ascertained after an observation of the documents presented in the court.
Arzoo wore her Muslim dress after her marriage ceremony.
“The court has clearly stated that this was a case of child marriage.”
The court also ordered that Arzoo be sent to a shelter house.
She is awaiting her fate there.
The last hearing was set for March 13, 2021, but it did not take place as the lawyers in the city were on strike.
The court is yet to announce a new date and Arzoo’s parents are anxious to get a judgment that could reunite them with their beloved daughter.
Arzoo is still at the shelter. She is passing through the most confusing time of her life.
Often, she calls home, desiring to talk to the whole family. She asks them what they ate in their meals. What are they doing?
She requests them to come to see her at the shelter. Her family tries to convince her for a statement in the court to shun the marriage and come back home.
She replies, “I’m yet undecided.”
She is suffering from a dilemma. Which love is true? The one showered by her parents over the years or the one being posed by a man three times her age who just entered her life.
She is too young to reach a conclusion. People around her are successful in convincing her that she has chosen the right path.
Her father Raja expresses helplessness.
“They are too strong. They are not only influencing my daughter, but also the authorities.” Azhar’s two brothers are in the police force.
They are linked with the city’s powerful political party MQM which has also been accused of violence for over the past four decades.
“We want nothing but our daughter back home. She is innocent. She must be reunited with us,” says Raja who has two other daughters and a son, who are all worried for Arzoo.
Lawyer Jibran Nasir is hopeful to get justice.
He says that Arzoo has been influenced by the accused. But he is confident that the court will deliver justice for the little girl and her family.
Pakistan’s Sindh province is notorious for conversions of non-Muslim girls and their controversial marriages to the people close to the clerics who observe conversions.
The government has introduced several legislations to curb this menace but nothing has been enforced practically on the ground.
The girls continue to be forced or trapped into the conversions and sham marriages.
The President of Canadian Aid to Persecuted Christians Inc. has run a campaign on social media for Arzoo’s release.
The Minorities Alliance Pakistan, a Christian party, has staged protests in Islamabad and Faisalabad, against Arzoo’s kidnapping and other abducted girls. Around 1400 Christian and Hindu girls are kidnapped in Pakistan annually.
The Pakistani Christian group in Toronto Canada, has also staged a protest for Arzoo’s release.
The father, Raja Lal Masih, has said that his children, two daughters, Sonia (18) and Mary (17) as well as a son, Shahbaz (16) have not gone to school since the incident occurred. The parents are extra vigilant and have only limited walk outs from their home.
The family has appealed to Canadian Aid to Persecuted Christians to help facilitate resources for their protection and relocation.