Girl, 13, kidnapped by man, 44, and forced to convert to Islam and marry him

A 13-year-old Christian girl was kidnapped by a 44-year-old Muslim man in Pakistan who forced her to convert to Islam and marry him, campaigners say.

Arzoo Raja was reportedly taken from her home in Karachi on October 13, and two days later her ‘husband’ produced a marriage certificate saying she was 18 and had converted to his religion.

The case has led to protests in Karachi and Lahore but a Pakistani court has upheld the marriage after her husband claimed she had converted of her own free will.

It is alleged Arzoo tried to run to her mum during the court hearing but her husband held her in a tight grip to stop her from leaving.

Her dad said that his daughter had been abducted from the family home after her parents went to work.

When police contacted the family two days later they said that the ‘husband’ had already obtained a marriage certificate, according to a Christian group called the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).

CLAAS UK director Nasir Saeed said: “Very often young girls are threatened into giving statements to the court saying they have married and converted to Islam of their own free will.

Girl, 13, kidnapped by man, 44, and forced to convert to Islam and marry him
There have been protests in Pakistan about the forced marriage and conversion

“It is a very sensitive matter for Pakistani Christians but sadly it is all falling on the deaf ears of the politicians and authorities.

“It is sad as the Pakistani police and courts have failed to respect their own laws, as well international standards, which are continuing to be ignored especially in forces conversion and forced marriage cases even in the higher courts.”

Arzoo is said to have had her name changed to Arzoo Fatima and a judge claimed that she had converted to Islam of her own free will.

Girl, 13, kidnapped by man, 44, and forced to convert to Islam and marry him
A court in Pakistan claimed Arzoo converted to Islam of her own free will

The marriage certificate said she is 18, but the family has a birth certificate showing she is only 13, according to a Catholic organisation called Aid to the Church in Need.

The charity said the teenager’s parents have lost their jobs and been threatened since their daughter was kidnapped.

According to shocking figures from the campaign group Girls Not Brides, around 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18.

It says low levels of education are described a “both a cause and consequence” of child marriage.

In 2017, Pakistan’s government tried to crack down on child marriage by imposing prison sentences up to 10 years for offenders.