The parents of a 13-year-old Christian girl kidnapped in Pakistan have joined forces with a Catholic charity in their struggle to win back their daughter abducted by a man who forced her to marry him and convert to Islam.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which supports persecuted Christians, is to provide legal and paralegal aid in the case of Arzoo Raja, a Catholic, who was kidnapped from her home in Karachi.
Lawyer Tabassum Yousaf is due tomorrow (Wednesday, 28th October) to represent Arzoo’s family at the case’s first hearing in the High Court of Sindh.
Following Arzoo’s disappearance, her parents lost their jobs and reported receiving threats from her kidnappers, and now ACN will help cover their legal costs and day-to-day living expenses.
In an emotional appeal for the return of their daughter, a copy of which was sent to ACN, Rita, Arzoo’s mother, said: “In the name of God, please rescue our daughter. We are deeply worried. Please help us.
“[The abductor] and his supporters are terrifying us and we are in danger from these people. Please listen to our appeal.”
According to the First Information Report (FIR), Arzoo’s father, Raja, told police that the 13-year-old was kidnapped from the family home in Karachi’s Railway Colony on the morning of 13th October, shortly after her parents went to work.
Two days later, police summoned the family to say the abductor, Ali Azhar, a 44-year-old Muslim, who is already married with children, had produced a certificate of marriage to Arzoo, which stated the girl’s age as 18 and that she had willingly converted to Islam.
The family have an official government-produced birth certificate showing that Arzoo is 13.
Social activists, parliamentarians and many Christians protested outside Karachi Press Club on Saturday (24th October), demanding the enforcement of the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which makes it illegal to wed someone who is underage.
Highlighting the challenge of addressing persecution of religious minorities across Pakistan, Regina Lynch, the charity’s director of projects, said: “There is progress at the national level but it is important that the authorities responsible for defending the victims – that is the police forces and judicial authorities – free themselves from the pressure of extremist groups.”
The Movement for Solidarity and Peace calculates that annually up to 1,000 young Christian and Hindu girls aged between 12 and 25 are abducted by Muslim men, forcibly married and converted.