Underage marriage: 13-year-old Arzoo recovered after SHC orders, says Wahab

Published November 2, 2020
Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari on Monday said that the Sindh High Court (SHC) had ordered that Arzoo — a teenage Christian girl who was allegedly abducted before being forcefully converted and married to a Muslim man — be shifted to a shelter home. — File photo
Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari on Monday said that the Sindh High Court (SHC) had ordered that Arzoo — a teenage Christian girl who was allegedly abducted before being forcefully converted and married to a Muslim man — be shifted to a shelter home. — File photo

Arzoo, a teenage Christian girl who was allegedly abducted before being forcefully converted and married to a Muslim man, has been recovered, Sindh government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab announced through a tweet on Monday evening.

Speaking to Dawn.com, acting Karachi police chief Additional IG Arif Hanif confirmed that the 13-year-old girl had been recovered safely and her purported husband had also been arrested.

The city police chief said the girl would be sent to a shelter home as per the directions of the Sindh High Court (SHC) while the suspect would be presented before the court on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, the SHC had ordered the police to recover Arzoo and shift her to a shelter home.

"The judge has ordered the girl be recovered by police and relevant agencies and shifted to a shelter home. Next hearing fixed for Thursday morning [November 5]. My lawyer has informed the court that an intervener will be filed on my behalf," Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said in a tweet.

Activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir — who is part of the legal team fighting the case on behalf of Arzoo's parents — also confirmed the development, adding that the SHC had directed that the girl be produced before the court at the next hearing. Speaking to Dawn.com, he said the court in the meantime has ordered that a medical test be conducted to determine the girl's age.

The court noted that issues to be addressed are the girl's age, whether she was forcibly converted and if her marriage is legal, he said.

"I trust the Sindh government and the police would use all resources at their disposal" to recover Arzoo, he said.

"To save our children, the government, judiciary, lawyers, civil society and the media should all be on the same page. We all need to play our respective roles effectively," he said.

"Glad both the Sindh government and the federal government want to pursue #JusticeForArzoo. There is a lot to learn from the injustices committed in this case first by the accused and then by our governance system. With both governments on board hope this case will become ground for renewed focus on child rights," he added.

Sindh government spokesperson Wahab added that the court had issued the directives on an application filed by the provincial government.

Sindh Governor Imran Ismail said Arzoo's case would be solved according to the law. "There can be no compromise on cases involving underage marriage," he said while meeting representatives of minority communities at the Governor House.

The alleged abduction of 13-year-old Arzoo last month had sparked protests from human rights groups against her purported forced conversion and underage marriage with a Muslim man.

According to the first information report of the case registered on his complaint, Arzoo's father Raja stated that on October 13, he and his wife went to work while their son Shahbaz had gone to school. The complainant said his three daughters, including Arzoo, were present at their home in Railway Colony when he received a call from a relative, who told him that Arzoo was missing from the house.

Raja said he reached home and contacted their 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 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 Syed Ali Azhar, the girl's alleged husband, 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.

On Saturday, a judicial magistrate had dismissed an application filed by Arzoo's family pleading to send her to a shelter home. Arzoo's father had filed an application under Rule 5 of the Child Marriages Restraint Rules read with Rules 8, 9 and 10 of the Child Marriages Restrain Act, 2013 and Section 100 of the criminal procedure code.

Nasir had argued that girl was 13, therefore, the provisions of the Sindh Child Marriages Restrain Act had also been incorporated in the matter by the investigating agency.

He had argued that the relevant documents concerning the victim's age had already been provided by the complainant to the investigating officer and the same were showing her age as 13 years.

Nasir had contended that further stay of the victim with suspect Azhar would amount to an offence punishable under Section 376 (punishment for rape) of the Pakistan Penal Code read with Section 375(v) (rape: with or without her consent when she is under sixteen years of age).

He had said that the complainant was not even asking for the custody of the victim, as he had no objection sending her to a shelter home for DNA testing and other requirements for the investigation.

The investigating officer in the case, Inspector Shariq Ahmed Siddiqui, had stated that the victim had appeared before the SHC and was sent under the protection of the SHO of the Preedy police station in compliance with the court's Oct 27 order.

He said he had called in verification of the victim's B-form, which as per the National Database and Registration Authority, was genuine.

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