A 13-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan has been rescued after allegedly being abducted and forced to marry a Muslim man. Authorities were able to recover the girl a month after the girl's parents reported her missing on October 13. Her parents claim she was abducted by Ali Azhar, 44, and was forced to convert and marry him.
At the time of the abduction, the courts failed to act on the charges since they accepted the statements from the girl saying she was 18 and married her alleged abductor on her own free will. However, human rights campaign groups as well as leaders from the Catholic Church in Pakistan were not quick to buy such seemingly shady information and took to the streets of Karachi. The public outcry prompted action from authorities as they demanded the court to reconsider its ruling arguing the girl's statements were obviously forced.
According to the Christian organisation Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, the girl's father was informed of a marriage certificate provided by Azhar stating the girl was 18 and had converted to Islam. The parents strongly claimed the papers were fake. However, the high court granted custody to the girl's abductor, the BBC reported.
The court's decision was condemned by religious groups and human rights advocates. Father Saleh Diego, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Karachi, addressed the issue of forced conversions:
"A 13-year-old cannot decide about her religion. She is an innocent girl... and still has a lot to learn about her own religion."
The girl's parents later filed a harassment petition on their daughter's behalf but the High Court dismissed this but later reversed the decision after being pressured by the protests.
The Sindh High Court eventually ordered police to search for the girl on Monday. She was recovered later that day with her abductor arrested on the same night. She remains in protective court custody until the hearing scheduled on November 5.
Recent reports gathered from the United Nations showed that child marriages are still a common practice in South Asia. Nearly 25% of Pakistani women in their early 20's were already married by the time they turn 18.