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Pakistani Police Rescue Christian Teen Girl After Alleged Forced Conversion, Marriage

Karachi's Sindh High Court had initially accepted that the teenager had been old enough to wed, a move which sparked protests in Pakistan's largest city. (file photo)

Pakistani authorities have rescued a missing 13-year-old Christian girl who was allegedly forced to convert to Islam and marry a 44-year-old Muslim man, her family and officials say.

Police took the girl to a women's shelter in the city of Karachi where she will stay until a court hearing on November 5, the family’s lawyer Jibran Nasir said on November 3.

The court ordered police to free the girl and arrest her alleged kidnapper three weeks after she disappeared, following appeals by women's rights and Christian organizations who had called on the authorities to take action.

The man, a neighbor of the family, was due to appear in court on November 4.

Nasir said he hoped the girl's school and government records would be enough evidence to prove that she was a minor.

The lawyer also expressed hope that the girl will be returned to his parents.

The Sindh High Court initially accepted statements from the girl that she was 18 -- the legal marriage age in the province -- and had willingly converted to Islam and wed, sparking protests in Karachi by Christian groups and rights campaigners.

The family said the identification papers were fake.

Campaigners say the forced conversion and marriage of girls and woman from minority religions, including Hindus and Christians, is a growing problem in Muslim-majority Pakistan, with those from poor families largely targeted.

Last year, the alleged abduction and forced conversion of two Hindu sisters made headlines in Pakistan when a video of their marriages was shared widely on social media.

According to the United Nations children's agency UNICEF, 21 percent of Pakistani girls are married by the age of 18, and 3 percent before 15.

With reporting by Reuters and the BBC
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