A 13-year-old Christian girl that was abducted and forced to marry a Muslim man, 44-year-old Ali Azhar, has been removed by court order from her captor's home. She has been sent to a government-run shelter where a medical examination will determine her age, which will then tell the court if Azhar violated Pakistan's laws against child marriage.
After being abducted from her own home on October 13, Arzoo Raja later signed a paper saying she had converted to Islam and married Azhar of her own free will.
International Christian Concern's South Asia Regional Manager, Will Stark, said that other young girls in similar circumstances face threats of violence and rape to make them cooperate with their captors.
According to Stark, Monday's court order was "a victory along the road to the main victory. Based on the statements the governor and the federal minister made, things indicate she might be returned to her family."
The court's original decision validated the abduction and illegal marriage. Even though Pakistan's secular law forbids child marriage, courts often use Islamic Sharia law to bypass those laws. However, the court reversed its original decision.
"It's unclear exactly what changed to make this happen," Stark said. "The best way to try to figure it out is to look at the activities that led to the court order. It starts with the federal minister for human rights in Pakistan."
Raja appeared before the Sindh High Court on Thursday to testify, where she told the court that she was 18, had not been abducted, had chosen to convert to Islam, and married Azhar by her own choice.
Stark believes that Raja gave false testimony due to threats made by Azhar. There had previously been another girl who was abducted and gang-raped, and she was told by her captor that if she did support him in court, he would release video of the rape online.
Unfortunately, Pakistani law does not allow parents to regain custody of their children who have changed their religion.
"When a girl has supposedly converted and married to someone else, the custody of the girl changes," Stark said. "She can't be allowed to go back to her home because if she's a Muslim, she shouldn't be raised by Christians."
Even if Raja wins her case, it will not set a legal precedent against child marriage, since Pakistan already has laws against child marriage. According to Stark, the laws are not enforced because radical Muslim groups threaten people who try to obtain justice.