Authorities in Pakistan have rescued a missing Christian child bride who was allegedly abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim man after a public uproar and pressure by human rights groups.
According to her parents, the 13-year-old was abducted on Oct. 13 in Karachi by 44-year-old Ali Azhar who forcibly got her to convert to Islam and married her.
Sindh’s High Court, on Oct. 27, initially accepted statements from the girl that she was 18 – the legal marriage age in the province, and had willingly converted to Islam and wed.
The family alleges the documents produced in court are forged.
Christian and human rights groups in the state have been demanding that the court reconsiders its judgement raising doubts that the girl could have been forced to give her statement. A protest also took place in the capital city to demand justice for the teenager.
Joseph Arshad, a local archbishop told Crux news, “It is the responsibility of the state to… protect its citizens, especially minor girls.”
Father Saleh Diego, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Karachi, also addressed the issue of forced conversions, telling the Catholic News Agency that “a 13-year-old cannot decide about her religion. She is an innocent girl… [she]still has a lot to learn about her own religion.”
Pakistan’s minister for science and technology also questioned the decision of Sindh court demanding a thorough enquiry.
Following the public outrage, the Sindh high court reversed its decision and ordered the authorities to rescue the girl, who is now under the court’s protection.
The abductor, Mr. Ali was also arrested on the same day.
The issues of forced conversions and child marriage are not new in Pakistan.
A 2014 report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP) says about 1,000 women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam every year, which includes nearly 700 Christian and 300 Hindu women.
According to a recent United Nations report, child marriages are still commonplace across South Asia. In Pakistan, nearly a quarter of women in their early 20s were married by the time they are 18, the report found. (Source: Independent UK)