MANHATTAN — The plight of a 13-year-old kidnap victim in Pakistan is being felt here in the U.S., according to protesters who staged a demonstration on Nov. 2 to demand her immediate release.
Arzoo Raja, a Christian teenager, was kidnaped from her home in Karachi, Pakistan on Oct. 13, forced to marry her 44-year-old Muslim captor, and then forced to convert to Islam, according to leaders of the Pakistani Christian Association (PCA).
PCA members gathered with representatives of other groups on Fifth Avenue, half a block from the Consulate of Pakistan, on a chilly, windy morning to call on the government of Pakistan to enforce its law against kidnappings, find Arzoo, and reunite her with her family.
It was learned just hours after the New York protest that the kidnapped girl had been rescued.
Arzoo was found on Nov. 2 and was placed in protective custody, where she will remain for the time being, by the government. Her alleged kidnaper was arrested.
Protesters said they feel the girl’s tragedy personally.
“We will keep pushing for justice until this girl is home again with her parents,” Pakistani Christian Association Chairman William Shahzad told The Tablet. “This is a 13-year-old girl. She should not be married.”
“We want the government of Pakistan to stop allowing persecution of Catholics and Christians,” added Shazaad, who is a parishioner of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Kensington.
Arzoo’s case has also been taken up by humanitarian organizations, like the International Christian Concern, advocating for her release.
PCA Secretary-General James Cyprian charged that what happened to Arzoo has happened to hundreds of underage Catholics and Christians in Pakistan.
“They kidnap them, force them to convert, and marry them off to their abductors,” Cyprian told The Tablet. “The courts do not help and the police do not help.”
“Some of these girls become pregnant. This is a tragedy. They are children having children,” he added.
Pakistani law prohibits minors from marrying. However, the demonstrators charge that the courts often ignore the law and issue rulings permitting such marriages.
The organization Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan estimated that 1,000 Christian and Hindu women are abducted, forced into marrying their captors, and to convert to Islam each year.
In Arzoo’s case, her parents reported her missing but local authorities informed them that she married of her own free will and there was nothing they could do.
“The parents filed a police report, but nobody is listening to them,” said Hubert George, president of the group Hope for Persecuted Christians.
A Pakistani court ruled on Oct. 27 that the marriage was valid — a decision that sparked outrage in Pakistani Christian circles.
On Nov. 2, just hours before the Manhattan demonstration, a different court ordered the girl to be released and taken to a shelter. But it’s not clear if that is going to happen, protesters said.
For the protesters, the Arzoo Raja case illustrates the ongoing problem of persecution of Catholics and Christians in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim country.
“Christians are suffering so much over there,” George said.
Editor’s Note: The office of the Pakistan Consulate did not return messages from The Tablet.