The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Thursday directed the health secretary to constitute a medical board to determine the age of Arzoo — a Christian girl whose family claim she is a minor who was allegedly abducted before being “forcefully” converted and married to a 45-year-old Muslim man.
The case came into the limelight after an earlier high court order barred Sindh police from arresting the girl’s husband — Ali Azhar — in connection with a first information report (FIR) against him and his family for “kidnapping Arzoo, forging her age, forcefully converting her to Islam and for marrying a child”.
During that hearing, Arzoo had stated she had embraced Islam out of her free choice and had solemnised a free-will marriage with Azhar without any fear or pressure.
Several human rights activists and social media users criticised the ruling as videos of the girl’s mother surfaced on social media in which she was visibly distressed and crying out for her child who she claimed was only 13 years old.
Following the outcry, the Sindh government filed an application with the court seeking clarification on its October 27 order in which authorities had been barred from arresting the man and police was directed to provide protection to the newly-wedded wife. While hearing the government’s application, the court reversed its earlier order and directed the police to recover Arzoo and temporarily place her in a shelter home.
A day later, the girl was recovered while her husband and some members of his family were arrested.
During today’s hearing, Arzoo reiterated that she had contracted the marriage of her own will. She also said that she had not been kidnapped and pleaded that she be allowed to leave with her husband.
However, the two-judge bench headed by Justice K.K. Agha observed that according to the documents produced before it, she was below 18 years of age and under the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2013, nobody below 18 years can contract marriage.
Activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir — who is part of the legal team fighting the case on behalf of Arzoo’s parents — contended that it was necessary to determine the girl’s age. He also requested the court to record the girl’s statement in chamber.
However, the Sindh advocate general said that the girl’s statement should not be recorded as she was a minor.
Justice Agha observed that if Arzoo was 18-years-old, she had the right to marry whoever she chose. The court further observed that she had said she was not kidnapped.
Meanwhile Barrister Salahuddin also appeared before the court and filed an intervener on behalf of Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari, who had earlier said she wanted to join the case.
Justice Agha said the court would proceed step-by-step and would analyse the case carefully. The bench directed the health secretary to constitute a medical board to determine the girl’s age. It also directed police to keep the girl at the shelter home till Nov 9 when the case will be taken up for hearing again.
In the FIR of the case registered on the complaint of Arzoo’s father, Raja, he claims that on Oct 13, he and his wife went to work while their son Shahbaz had gone to school.
Raja said his three daughters, including Arzoo, were present at their home in Karachi’s Railway Colony when he received a call from a relative, who told him that Arzoo was missing.
Raja said he reached home and contacted his neighbours, but could not trace his daughter. He subsequently lodged a case regarding the abduction of his daughter against unknown persons at the Frere police station.
Arzoo’s family members earlier this month told Dawn that her purported husband, Ali Azhar, lived in a house opposite theirs along with his family and he was at least 45-years-old.
“The rascal who abducted her has prepared fake papers to show that she is 18-years-old,” her mother said.
Read: Family narrates ordeal of ‘missing’ teenage daughter
Police had booked Azhar and arrested his brothers, Syed Shariq Ali, Syed Mohsin Ali, and a friend, Danish, for allegedly abducting the underage girl, purportedly forcibly converting her and marrying her to a Muslim man.
However, Arzoo had sought a court injunction against the registration of an FIR against her spouse and in-laws by her family at the Frere police station by filing a constitutional petition in the SHC.
She submitted in the petition that she converted to Islam of her free will and also asked her family members to embrace Islam but they refused.