Appearing before a Karachi court, defence counsel Nizar Tanoli attempted to argue that the marriage of the minor Arzoo Raja, who had been reportedly converted to Islam, to an older Muslim man was not against the law.
The defence counsel for Syed Ali Azhar, 44, under the provisions of the Majority Act, 1875, while Arzoo was considered a minor, there was no bar on the marriage of a minor.
He further stated that Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961, provided the right that any citizen could contract marriage upon attaining puberty.
The lawyer further stated that the precedents of the Federal and Shariah laws superseded the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act (SCMRA), 2013, which was a provincial law.
The lawyer further said that Arzoo had, in a statement before the Sindh High Court, said to have converted to Islam of her own free will.
After hearing arguments from the defence counsel, the judge fixed the matter for Dec 1 to hear arguments from the complainant’s counsel.
On Monday, the SHC had sent Arzoo Raja, who was allegedly kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam, to a shelter home and ordered authorities to keep her there until she reaches the age of 18.
The high court had also asked the girl to reconsider her decision to not live with her parents, rights activist and counsel for Arzoo’s parents had tweeted.
A first information report (FIR) was lodged at Ferere police station subsequently on behalf of her father and nominated Azhar as the prime suspect. Following the filing of the complaint, the police arrested Azhar’s brothers — Syed Shariq Ali and Syed Mohsin Ali — and a friend, Danish, for allegedly abducting the girl.
During earlier hearings, Arzoo stated she had embraced Islam out of her free choice and had solemnised a free-will marriage with Azhar “without any fear or pressure”. She insisted again on going with Azhar.
During the hearing, the prosecutor in the case informed the court that the case in question was not of abduction but of underage marriage. “The cleric who solemnised the marriage [of Arzoo and Azhar], has been on bail and other accused have also got bails from courts,” he informed the court.
“Also, two accused [in the case] are absconding,” he said. At this, the judge wondered if “efforts have been to capture the suspects”.
“According to an [earlier] Supreme Court ruling, the case should be decided in accordance with the Constitution,” the counsel said, arguing the incident apparently violated both Islamic and underage marriage laws of the country.
“Police should present its report in the lower court [where the matter is being investigated] after transparent investigation of the matter,” the judge said.
During the proceeding on Monday, the court also added Section 375(5) of the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006, according to which sexual intercourse with a girl under 16 years of age, with or without consent, amounts to rape.
The case led to protests which started in Karachi but have since spread across Pakistan to other cities including Quetta, Lahore, and Hyderabad after a judicial magistrate dismissed last month an application filed by Arzoo’s family, requesting to send her to a shelter home from the custody of her purported husband.