In most parts of the world, individuals can get married once they reach a certain age. But it remains that there are ways that some can marry by lying about their age. In the case of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Catholic girl, the case is complicated.
Arzoo was abducted last Oct. 13, 2020, outside their house in Karachi, Pakistan and reportedly kidnapped by their 44-year-old neighbor Ali Azhar. Rajah Masih had reported her daughter missing on that same day, only to find out that their daughter married Azhar.
Masih was shown a Nikkahnama, an Islamic marriage certificate, a Sanad-e-Islam (conversion certificate) and an affidavit stating that Arzoo had consented to them of her own free will. The matter was made even worse when the Sindh High Court validated the marriage, preventing the police from arresting Azhar last Oct. 27, Wion News reported.
The case of Arzoo typifies the growing concern of abductions and forced marriages on minor girls and women. Roughly 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are abducted and forcibly married each year.
However, a high court in Sindh Province, Pakistan has overturned that Oct. 27 marriage. But as far as the forcible conversion to Islam, the issue has yet to be addressed, the Morning Star News reported.
It was found that Arzoo was truly underaged and could not legally marry her abductor and thus not return to him. With that in mind, the 13-year-old girl was not allowed to return to Azhar. The court gave her the option to either return to her parents or the shelter home.
Arzoo did not want to go to either, forcing justices to rule on her behalf. With no option left, it was decided that she return to the shelter home. While there, only people that the teenager wanted to see would be permitted. Azhar was not allowed to visit her.
The row is something that has grown rampant in Pakistan with underaged girls pressured to give false statements. They get threats as well as their families.
The report also pointed out how Islamic clerics visited Arzoo at the shelter home and ordered her to stick with her initial statements of marrying and converting of her own free will per unnamed sources. Despite this, another statement from Arzoo is expected in the next three days.
Further investigations on the matter will continue under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. 2013. This is the same law that came out in 2014 that increased the minimum age of marriage in the province to 18 years. Marrying or aiding the marriage of an underage child is considered a criminal offense.
Also worth noting is that it was not mentioned whether the kidnapper had sexual relations with the teenager during the period that they were together. If such is proven, he would be charged with another offense - rape of a minor. As of this writing, he is only charged under the child marriage act.
Azhar's side is contending that the marriage is legitimate under Islamic law even if Arzoo is under 18. Azhar's lawyer Ramzan Tabassum pointed out how the girl was physically and mentally mature and that marriage was permissible in Islam after a person reaches adolescence.
Nevertheless, this case has caused an outcry from Christian clergy and rights' groups.