Five people, including a prayer leader, were arrested on Friday evening for their suspected involvement in marrying off a five-year-old girl to a 15-year-old boy in Dadu's Taluka Johi area allegedly to settle a gambling debt, police said.

Shahid Ali, the father of the minor girl and a resident of Khandhani village, was amongst those taken into custody after he was suspected of having contracted the marriage between the underage girl and boy in order to settle a Rs40,000 gambling debt, police said

Police said that Shahid had lost the money in a gamble to the 15-year-old child groom, a relative of his. Unable to settle the debt in financial terms, he decided to marry his daughter off to the boy.

After receiving information about the marriage, Senior Superintendent Police Dadu Shabbir Ahmed Sethar ordered a police team to conduct a raid in Shahid's village to arrest those involved.

Following the raid at the child groom's house, Shahid and Maulvi Karim Bux ─ the prayer leader who contracted the marriage ─ were arrested, police said.

Although the boy managed to escape a police raid at his house, he was arrested in a separate raid carried out in a neighbouring village, police said. However, he was later released by police as he was underage. The minor girl was also briefly detained and released for the same reason.

Two other people were also arrested and a case was registered against the accused under sections 3 and 4 of the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2016, Station House Officer TR Khan said.

Further investigations into the matter are underway, police said.

Inayat Ali Jamali, a social activist and head of a children's rights committee, urged the police not to release the groom and demanded that all gambling dens be closed down in the area.

Child Rights Committee Coordinator Dadu Niaz Chandio appealed to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to direct Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and Inspector General Police Sindh A.D. Khawaja to protect children in the province from underage marriage.

PPP MPA Dr Sajeela Leghari urged local police to constitute teams and conduct raids on gambling dens in the area.. She termed the forcible marriage of minor children with youths or elders illiteracy, and promised to highlight the issue of child marriage in the Sindh Assembly.

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