KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Thursday directed the provincial health authorities to immediately constitute a special medical board to determine the age of a Christian girl, who reportedly converted to Islam, and contracted a free-will marriage.

The two-judge bench headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha said petitioner Arzoo Fatima insisted that she was 18 years old, but documents on record indicated that she was 13.

The bench directed a special medical board to examine the girl and submit the report on Nov 9 and also ruled that she would remain in shelter home till next hearing.

At the outset of the hearing, police brought Arzoo and her supposed husband Syed Ali Azhar before the bench in compliance with its earlier order issued on Nov 2.

When the bench asked some questions, the petitioner replied that she was 18 years old and was never kidnapped by anybody, but she entered into marriage of her own free will with Azhar.

Be that as it may, there are other documents on record which indicate that her actual age is 13, the bench added.

SHC orders Arzoo be kept in a shelter home till next hearing

It further said that in order to ascertain the age of the petitioner, the secretary of health was directed to immediately constitute a special medical board comprising doctors who have specialty in age determination.

The bench directed the medical board to examine the girl prior to the next hearing and in the meanwhile she will remain in the shelter home and extend full cooperation to medical board who may take her out for the purpose of carrying out examination of age with the help of a lady constable and then will bring her back to the shelter home.

“This matter shall come up on 09.11.2020 when the special medical board shall ensure that its report is placed before the court under seal”, it concluded.

Initially, Arzoo along with her supposed husband petitioned the SHC seeking a restraining order against the registration of an FIR against her spouse and in-laws by her family at the Frere police station.

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 and she also contracted marriage with Azhar of her own will without duress and fear and because of it her family members had registered a kidnapping case against her spouse and in-laws.

Therefore, on Oct 27, the bench had restrained the Frere police from making any arrest in the FIR against the spouse and in-laws of Arzoo Fatima and directed SHO of Preedy police station to provide protection to the couple.

Last week, a judicial magistrate had dismissed an application filed by the family of Arzoo seeking to send her to a shelter home from the custody of her alleged husband. The parents of the petitioner contended that she was 13 and forcibly converted to Islam after being abducted.

Thereafter, the incident of alleged abduction sparked protests from human rights groups against her alleged forced conversion and underage marriage.

Subsequently, the provincial law officer filed an application in the SHC seeking placement of the girl in the care of a shelter home to ensure her safety and protection.

The bench took up the application for hearing on Nov 2 and had directed the police to recover the girl and shift her to shelter home since the dispute was twofold, including the age of Arzoo and whether she had converted of her own free will from Christianity to Islam and that being the case she had entered into a valid marriage with Azhar.

Subsequently, police had recovered the girl on the same day and shifted her to shelter home while Azhar was also taken into custody and on the following day a magistrate handed him over to police on three-day physical remand.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2020

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