Police on Monday chargesheeted Syed Ali Azhar, who had married 13-year-old Arzoo Fatima after her conversion from Christianity to Islam, with rape and six others — two lawyers, as many witnesses, a justice of peace and a Nikah Khawan — under sections pertaining to facilitating child marriage.
The investigation report, which was submitted to the District South judicial magistrate XXIII, exonerated three others — two brothers and a friend of Azhar’s — for lack of evidence against them. It also removed the section of kidnapping from the case after the girl denied the allegation.
Arzoo had eloped with Azhar, who is believed to be around 40 years old, on October 13, following which the girl’s father Raja had filed a complaint at the Frere police station claiming that his daughter had been kidnapped by the accused, according to the charge sheet.
It said the police arrested Azhar’s brothers — Syed Mohsin Ali and Syed Shariq Ali — and friend Danish for allegedly facilitating the abduction, so the main suspect approached the police through his attorney and submitted the girl’s marriage, free-will and conversion certificates, following which the detained men were granted bail.
The documents read that the girl was 18 years old, but the claim turned out to be false after the National Database & Registration Authority verified her birth certificate submitted by her father. Following the revelation, Azhar was remanded to police custody and Arzoo was sent to a shelter home.
According to Arzoo’s statement to the police, she had left her house willingly for her boyfriend of one year, namely Azhar, and gone to the city courts with him on a motorbike to meet their lawyers.
She said the lawyers — Mehmoodul Hasan and his assistant Junaid Siddiqui — called Nikah Khawan Abdul Rasool into their office, adding that after contracting the marriage, she and Azhar shifted to a rented house in Korangi’s Madina Colony.
The two lawyers and the Nikah Khawan have obtained pre-arrest bail contending that they had been told by the accused that the girl was 18 years old. Justice of Peace Azharuddin, who issued the free-will certificate to Arzoo, and the two witnesses of the marriage, namely Danish Hussain and Habib, remain absconding, so the police have charged them in absentia.
All six of these suspects have been charged under sections 3 (punishment for male contracting party), 4 (punishment for solemnising a child marriage) and 5 (punishment for parent or guardian concerned in a child marriage) of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act.
Besides these, Azhar has also been charged with Section 375(v) (sexual intercourse with or without the woman’s consent if she is under 14 years of age) of the Pakistan Penal Code. Mohsin, Shariq and Danish have been discharged by the police after no evidence of their involvement was found.
The court is yet to pass an order on the charge sheet. Meanwhile, Arzoo has tested positive for Covid-19 and has been quarantined at the Panah Shelter Home, while Azhar has tested negative and is in jail under judicial custody.
Back to shelter home
The Sindh High Court (SHC) has sent Arzoo back to the shelter home after she refused to go with her parents again. A two-judge bench of the SHC disposed of her petition after the police said they had filed a charge sheet before a judicial magistrate.
The bench directed the home secretary to appoint a female representative from the social welfare department to visit Arzoo at the shelter home every week to ensure her welfare in terms of physical and mental well-being, health, schooling and any other matter of concern.
The court also directed the police to make their best efforts to trace the absconders and bring them to justice after the investigating officer informed the bench that the suspects had been chargesheeted in connection with underage marriage.
During the proceedings, the court asked the girl again if she was willing to go with her parents, but she once again refused to go back to her parents’ house. The bench said that under these circumstances, she could not go with the man she had married because she was only 13 years old, while her marriage was not legally valid and was in violation of the child marriages restraint law.
Her lawyer, however, contended that the marriage between Arzoo and Azhar was legal under the federal law on marriages and had overriding effects over the provincial law. The court said that this issue can be taken up at another time and at a more appropriate forum, where it can be addressed fully after considering all the relevant case laws and in view of the 18th amendment.
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