Karachi Catholic Archdiocese organized seminars to create awareness among women and girls about their rights and the growing phenomenon of forced conversion and child marriage in Pakistan.
17 November 2020
KARACHI: Caritas Karachi and the Catholic Women’s Organization (CWO) jointly organized a seminar on November 13 at the Kausar Naizi Colony, a Christian ward in Sts Parish. Jude. The incident adds to the urgency following the recent case of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl who was kidnapped on October 13 while playing outside her home on the Karachi Colony Railway. She forcibly converted and married Ali Azar, a 44 year old Muslim man.
Her family is still legally struggling to get custody. The case caused shock waves across Pakistan, prompting religious minorities, especially Christianity, to hold nationwide protests.
Extensive kidnapping for marriage
Tabassum Yousaf, a high court attorney and Arzoo adviser, explained the legal rights of minority girls as guaranteed by Pakistan’s constitution. “Although kidnapping someone for the purpose of forced marriage is a criminal offense in Pakistan, it is one of, if not the most widely reported, of the crimes that are widely reported against women in the country,” he said.
Yousaf advises girls on how to protect themselves from kidnapping, forced conversions and marriage, such as by memorizing the cell phone numbers of their parents and siblings. She asked mothers to spend time with their daughters, befriend them, patiently listen to their problems and handle them with love, care and respect. The lawyer appealed to all to emphasize their commitment to providing quality education and equal opportunities for their daughters, starting from the family.
Mother’s role and prayer
According to Sister Catherine Qasir, a CWO coordinator, mothers play a very important role in building families and protecting young girls from forced conversions. “We must pray daily with all family members to strengthen spiritually and renew our faith in Jesus Christ and to fight against the forces of evil,” he said.
Mansha Noor, executive secretary of Caritas Karachi, said the Arzoo case provided a useful opportunity for mothers and daughters to learn about the threat of forced conversion and child marriage and its negative impact on society. “What we learn from this seminar we must share with others and start applying it to our families if we want to save and protect young women and children,” said Noor.
She pointed to the importance of praying in the family as emphasized by Mother Teresa. “Families who pray together stay together, and if they stay together they will love each other as God loves each of them,” he said.
Arzoo’s case is still inconclusive
The Sindh High Court on October 27 upheld Arzoo’s marriage, based on a false affidavit made by her husband, Ali Azar, who claimed that the girl was 18 and had converted to her own religion. The court prevents the police from arresting the suspect and his henchmen.
However, following protests by human rights and religious groups and a plea filed by the Sindh provincial government, the court on November 2 surprisingly overturned its decision and ordered police to find Arzoo and transfer him to a shelter. The girl was saved that very day.
The medical council set up by the Sindh High Court to determine Arzoo’s age on November 9 confirmed he was a minor. According to Jibran Nasir, Arzoo’s parent’s attorney, the court acknowledged that Arzoo was 13 years old according to official documents from the National Database and Registration Agency (NADRA).
Nasir said, at this stage only the problem of child marriage had been resolved, but the court had yet to determine whether Arzoo could convert to Islam himself considering that he was 13 years old. Arzoo still lives in the halfway house.
The bishops discuss repentance, forced marriage
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan (PCBC) also discussed the Arzoo case at its biennial meeting in Lahore on November 5-6. The bishops noted with great concern the increasing number of kidnappings, forced conversions and forced marriages among minority communities in Pakistan. “The bishops’ conference condemns the kidnapping, forced conversion and marriage of the little girl Arzoo Raja to a man who is more than three times her age as well as other such incidents,” PCBC president Archbishop Joseph Arshad said in a press release.
Child marriage in South Asia
According to a recent United Nations report, child marriage is still commonplace in South Asia. In Pakistan, nearly 25% of women in their early 20s are married by the time they turn 18, according to the report. UNICEF, the United Nations children’s fund, says Pakistan has the world’s sixth absolute number of child brides – nearly 1.91 million. India has more than 15.5 million child brides, the highest number in the world.
Girls not Brides, the international non-governmental organization against child marriage, says that 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before their 18th birthday and 3% are married before their 15th birthday. ––Vatican News