A cry for justice as Pakistan court validates forced ‘marriage’ of teen — Elizabeth Kendal

Lawyer Tabassum Yousaf, left,
at a rally for Huma Younus, December 2019.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin — by Elizabeth Kendal

Once again a Pakistani High Court has validated the “marriage” of an abducted Christian minor girl to her Muslim abductor, despite child marriage being illegal in Pakistan.

The High Court has rejected proof-of-age documents submitted by the victim’s Christian parents (birth certificates, baptismal records, school records, etc.) in favour of fraudulent documents submitted by the Muslim captor.

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Once again a High Court has accepted a certificate of religious conversion to Islam — something easily obtained through any fundamentalist mosque — without question and accepted the testimony of a captive given in the presence of her captors, without concern as to whether this testimony was made under duress. This time, however, it seems Pakistanis of conscience have had enough. Recognising the shame and disgrace this injustice brings to their nation, liberal Pakistanis are raising their voice.

On October 13 Arzoo Raja (a Christian aged 13) was abducted from her home in Karachi, Sindh Province, forcibly converted to Islam and married to her abductor, a Muslim neighbour named Ali Azhar,44 [RLPB 573 (28 Oct)].

On October 28, when the case came before the Sindh High Court, Arzoo’s captors prevented her from accessing her parents who were not even permitted to enter the court. At the end of the hearing, Sindh High Court Justice K K Agha ruled the “marriage” valid and instructed police not to “harass the newlywed couple”. 

In February the same court validated the ‘marriage’ of Huma Younus (a Christian, then 14) — who had been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam — to her Muslim abductor, Abdul Jabbar of Punjab Province [RLPB 538 (26 Feb)]. Now pregnant, Huma is reportedly being kept as a captive, confined to one room of the house.

Courageous Christian lawyer, Ms Tabassum Yousaf has represented both girls before the Sindh High Court.

As Pakistani commentator Hammad Saleem observes (October 31): “The trend of forced marriages has increased with high speed in Pakistan.” This trend — which is driven by impunity — is not limited to Sindh Province. On August 4 Lahore’s High Court validated the ‘marriage’ of Maira Shahbaz (a Christian,13) — who had been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam — to her Muslim abductor, the already-married and reputedly wealthy Mohamad Nakash [RLPB 564 (26 Aug)]. Maira has since escaped and is currently in hiding with her mother and siblings [RLPB 573 (28 Oct)].

Human rights groups in Pakistan estimate that up to 1 000 religious-minority girls are victims of forced conversion and marriage every year; up to 300 Hindus and up to 700 Christians. Not all are minors and not all are abducted. Some girls and parents are groomed, until they reluctantly become convinced it is the only way to escape poverty and persecution.

By this means Christian and Hindu girls are either lured or trafficked from their own community into the Muslim community where they are exploited, abused and forced to produce Muslim babies.

Rehana Raisat with a photo of her daughter, Shizam (15, a Christian) at a madrassa in Gujranwala, Punjab. On Feb 11, 2019, Shizam was abducted, forcibly converted and married to a Muslim. Riasat Masih, Shizam’s father, comments on the photo saying his daughter (left, in white) looks ‘almost unconscious’. (PHOTO:  UCAnews May 20, 2019).   

Various Pakistani politicians have attempted to introduce legislation banning forced conversions and child marriages. However, their efforts are denounced by Islamic organisations — including the Council of Islamic Ideology (a constitutional body that advises the legislature) — and doomed by radical Islamist outfits that threaten to mobilise their members and paralyse whole cities in defence of Islam.

On October 24 Christians, Hindus and Muslims raised awareness of Arzoo’s case when they rallied together outside the Karachi Press Club. Subsequently, the October 28 ruling sent social media buzzing. Protests proliferated as high-profile activists and celebrities took up the cause of Justice for Arzoo Raja (and on twitter #justiceforarzoo).

On Monday November 2, the Sindh High Court ordered that police recover Arzoo and move her to a shelter where she will undergo medical testing to determine her age before returning to court on Thursday November 5.

 Police from the Anti-Violent Crime Cell then rescued Arzoo and arrested her abductor, Ali Azhar. The court had been shamed into action. 

Arzoo Raja (13) flanked by police in Karachi, with Ali Azhar (44) on far right.
See: MSN (November 3).

It is imperative that we pray that this indignation not fade (as indignation is wont to do) and that change be achieved, for the sake of Pakistan’s vulnerable, long-persecuted religious minorities and their precious daughters.

PLEASE PRAY:

MAY OUR SOVEREIGN GOD INTERVENE IN PAKISTAN

* to protect and deliver Huma Younus and every Christian (and Hindu) girl who has been groomed or trafficked into the Muslim community through forced conversion and marriage; may the Lord roar from Zion (Amos 1:2a) and may ‘justice roll down like waters’ (Amos 5:24a ESV).

* to protect Arzoo Raja, Maira Shahbaz and their families, along with all Christians who are at risk of Islamist retribution for having challenged their subjugation (Psalm 57).

* to protect, embolden and amplify the voice of every courageous lawyer, activist, journalist and politician prepared to risk Islamist retribution by challenging the Islamists, insisting on justice, and demanding an end to shameful persecution.

* to stir up indignation among Pakistanis of conscience; may Pakistan’s moral crisis be redeemed for the awakening of many!

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