LONDON: A cross party group of British parliamentarians have condemned the abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of a 13 year old Christian girl in Karachi, Pakistan.
It is stated that on 13 October, a 13 year-old Christian girl Arzoo Raja, was abducted from a street near her home in Karachi, forced to convert to Islam and marry the abductor, a 43 years old Muslim man. A particularly worrying issue is that despite her family producing a National Database and Registration Authority birth certificate showing Arzoo to be 13-years-old, the authorities failed to stop the illegal marriage.
On October 13, Arzoo Masih was abducted by Ali Azhar, a local Muslim man, while she was playing outside of her home in Karachi’s St. Anthony’s Parish. Arzoo’s parents immediately filed a kidnapping complaint with local police.
Two days later, on October 15, police summoned Arzoo’s parents to the station where they presented the couple with marriage and conversion documents. These documents claimed Arzoo was 18 and that she had converted to Islam and married Azhar willingly.
Arzoo’s mother, Rita Masih, said she and her husband were at work on Oct. 13 when they received a phone call from a close relative that Arzoo had gone missing. Arzoo Masih was kidnapped while she was playing outside her home in Karachi’s St. Anthony’s Parish. The Catholic girl is the youngest of four children in her family.
Abductions, forced conversions and forced marriages of girls and women from the minorities background has become a serious concern in Pakistan. It is estimated that approximately 1,000 mostly Hindu and Christian girls, are abducted, forcibly converted and forcibly married every year.
Lord Alton, the APPG Co-Chair said: “This is a horrific crime which no culture or religion can justify. It is incomprehensible how a 13-year-old can make life changing decision like converting to a different religion and want to marry a 43 years old man. “We remind the Pakistani Government about its obligations under its constitution and human rights laws to protect its minorities. Our sympathies lie with Arzoo Raja and her parents. We will raise this issue with the UK Government, with the UN and other international human rights organisations,” he added.
Speaking to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN), Shabbir Shafqat, President of the National Christian Party, condemned the abduction, forced conversion, and forced marriage of Arzoo.
“Forced conversion has become a major tool for the persecution of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan,” Shafqat told UCAN. “We must make a united stand against Arzoo’s abduction.”
According to a study by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan, an estimated 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are abducted, forcefully married, and forcefully converted to Islam every year. Many of the victims are minors. Sexual assaults and fraudulent marriages are used by perpetrators to entrap victims and authorities are complicit.
Cllr James Shera
Councillor Dr James Shera, former Mayor of Rugby, has condemned the abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of a 13 years old Christian girl in Karachi, Pakistan. He said; “This is a horrific crime which no culture or religion can justify. It is incomprehensible how a 13-year old can make life changing decisions like converting to a different religion and wanting to marry a 43 years old man. Such cruel action is not allowed under Islamic or Pakistani law. The Pakistani Government has signed international treaties to protect human rights of minorities and children. Our sympathies lie with Arzoo Raja and her parents.”.
He added, “We understood the grief the Muslims felt and condemned the religious cartoons made in France; similarly, the Christian community in Pakistan and abroad has been traumatised by this outrageous crime. It is a betrayal of the ideals of Quaid e Azam. The Pakistani Christian community in the UK appeals to the Prime Minister of Pakistan to take immediate action to recover Arzoo Raja and hand her over to her parents”.
The UK Pakistani minorities leaders including Mr Michael Massey, Dr Peter David, Dr Noshaba Khilijee, Councillor Morris Johns, Advocate Qamar Shams, Bishop Yousaf Nadeem Bhinder, Mr John Bosco, Mr. Samson Javed, Mr Tahir Solomon and Mr Qamar Rafiq, endorsed the statement and condemned the regretful incident. They demanded the authorities to recover the girl without further delay.
Bishop Azad Marshall
In Pakistan, the Christian church leadership strongly condemns the forced conversion and marriage of a 13-year-old Christian girl in Karachi and demands the government of Pakistan to take immediate notice of such incidents and provide protection and relief to our people, said Bishop Azad Marshall, president of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP).
“Forced conversion of underage girls from the minority communities is not seen as a crime, much less as a problem that should concern ‘mainstream’ Pakistan, but it is a very serious crime and the government must address this matter on priority,” Bishop Marshall said in a statement.
The senior bishop said that forced conversion of minor girls is often disguised as voluntary conversion, referring to the case of a 14-year-old girl in Faisalabad, Maira Shahbaz who was kidnapped and forcibly married and converted to Islam earlier this year.
Bishop Marshall said that in spite of growing concern over a rise in abduction of girls from minority communities and forcibly marrying them and converting them to Islam, successive national and provincial governments have failed to pass laws against the perpetrators.
“The government should bring the legislation on forced conversion of underage girls to parliament without capitulating to any party that objects to its contents or underlying spirit.