Arzoo Raja – Yet Another Victim of Underage Marriage & Forced Conversion

Arzoo Raza

Pakistan witnessed another heart wrenching incident, when Arzoo Raja, a 13 year old Christian girl was abducted, forcefully converted and then married to a 44 year old man. Arzoo’s abduction came into spotlight when her parents filed a report at a local police station to seek legal justice on the matter.

The parents of the girl presented a Government issued Birth Certificate, showing she is 13, born in July 2007. However, the police came up with a conversion certificate, which stated that Arzoo converted to Islam at her own will. The idea of free will conversion itself is highly questionable, as how can a 13 year old girl convert her religion on her own.

The right to verdict about the conversion resides by the Court. Yet, there is nothing denying her young age and a shambolic case of underage marriage. Arzoo Raja’s abductor, also her previous neighbor, Syed Ali Azhar, produced a Nikah Nama and an affidavit claiming that Arzoo was 18 years old, which is the legal age for marriage in Sindh.

An FIR was lodged by the victim’s father, which named Azhar as the primary culprit, along with his brothers – Syed Shariq Ali, Syed Mohsin Ali, and a friend – Danish. The Sindh High Court, on Monday, ordered Sindh Police to locate and shift Arzoo to a shelter home within five days. The police also arrested Azhar, and got a 3 day judicial remand from the local Magistrate. The Court also instructed Police to present a DNA report of Arzoo. It would further aid in the proceedings of the case.

Arzoo’s father approached renowned lawyer and social activist, Jibran Nasir to fight the legal battle in their case. Jibran Nasir and his legal team will present Arzoo Raja’s case on the next hearing – 5th November. Arzoo will also be presented to the court in order to testify for her age.

This cold blooded incident has surely shaken up the morals of our society to the core. Forced conversions and underage marriages are a social atrocity, practiced in our society. There are several such reported cases by religious minorities, mainly Hindus and Christians. Many of these cases even go unreported because of the limited resources of victim’s family.

A few of these cases in the recent past were Myra Shehbaz and Huma Younus, aged 14, Sana John, aged 13, Farzana and Sehrish, aged 14 and 16 respectively. These figures present an ultimate insight of the social abnormalities faced by the minorities of the country.

Furthermore, the concerning fact is that there has been no considerable legal or social effort to minimize such incidents. Victims are left at the disposal of their harassers and kidnappers. PPP was brought to knees by the religious fanatics, when they tried to legislate the minimum religious conversion age to 18, back in 2016. Since then, there has been no considerate official effort at any forum.

The State is responsible for every citizen in the country, and it is our responsibility to safeguard the rights of our religious minorities, especially when we expect the same from the Western Countries. The case of Arzoo Raja is our social and moral test, and it should act as an awakening call for not only the State, but also for the general public.