Islamabad, Pakistan – A Pakistani court has ordered the police to take into custody a man accused of kidnapping, forcibly converting and marrying a 13-year-old Christian child until the next hearing in the case later this week.
Azhar Ali, 44, will be presented before the Sindh High Court in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi on November 5, the child’s parents’ lawyer told Al Jazeera on Tuesday. Court documents confirmed the development.
Aarzoo Raja’s parents have accused Ali of violating Pakistani laws against child marriage, and of forcibly converting their child to Islam.
“Police have confirmed that they have Azhar [Ali] in custody and they produced him in court today asking for a remand,” Jibran Nasir told Al Jazeera by telephone.
Aarzoo, 13, was taken into protective custody on Monday, authorities said, after the court ordered that she be taken to a women’s shelter pending further investigation in the case.
She has not been able to see her parents since being taken into government custody, Nasir said.
This reversal comes weeks after Aarzoo’s parents filed a complaint that Ali had kidnapped their child, forced her to convert to Islam and to marry him, in a case that sparked an uproar by rights groups in Pakistan.
In earlier hearings, the court had accepted the validity of the “marriage” after hearing that Aarzoo was over 18 years of age and had converted to Islam.
A birth certificate allegedly presented by her parents is said to show that her age is 13.
On Monday, the court reversed its position, ordering that Aarzoo be taken into protective custody at a women’s shelter until the matter could be conclusively investigated.
Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari tweeted that Aarzoo had been recovered and placed in a shelter, prompting a mixed bag of responses as some commentators praised the government’s action while others expressed their anger that more had not been done sooner.
You literally have one job ! You’re so keen to comment/tweet on any issue other than human rights like instantly but issues like these which are so rampant in our society & which directly come under YOUR umbrella…why so delay ?
— noonk jhonk (@frc020) November 2, 2020
According to UK-based rights group coalition Girls Not Brides, 21 percent of Pakistani girls are married before their 18th birthday. UN children’s rights organisation UNICEF puts the number of child brides in Pakistan at more than 1.9 million, the sixth-highest in the world
South Asia is home to 42 percent of the world’s child brides, according to a 2013 UNICEF report, with one in three of all worldwide child brides in Pakistan’s eastern neighbour, India.
Pakistani law prohibits child marriage and forcible conversion, a growing problem in the southern province of Sindh, where several high profile cases of Hindu women being allegedly forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men have emerged in recent years.
Last month, however, the head of a Pakistani parliamentary panel tasked with probing those allegations said that most cases of forced conversion “have some degree of willingness on the part of the girl”.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.