LAHORE: Amending the four British-era family laws of Christians in Pakistan in consultation with all denominations of their clergy are important parts of the Punjab government’s International Women’s Day package for the next year being announced on Wednesday.
The amendments are aimed at giving the Christians, basically the women, the rights fundamentally guaranteed to them by the constitution of Pakistan.
The Strategic Reforms Unit, the Punjab Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Department and the Women’s Development Department will consult stakeholders and make comprehensive amendments to the centuries old legal code that has governed the lives of the Christians for decades in Pakistan.
The family laws of the Christians in Pakistan are governed by four British era Acts: Christian Marriage Act of 1872, Divorce Act of 1869, Succession Act of 1925 and Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act of 1886.
Officials said these legislation, formulated by the English clergymen, were not only in conflict with the fundamental human rights but had become obsolete in the light of the changing global moralities and religious interpretations. “The legal age for marriage as per the Divorce Act of 1869 is 16 years for boys and 13 years for girls which stands in contradiction to the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929,” an official said.
“Similarly, the Christian divorce act is a clear infringement on the rights of women as it provides only one ground to a man to divorce his wife and this is alleging of her adultery. Section 10 of the act has been a nuisance for Christian couples,” the official said, adding that the Christian-dominated USA, UK and Russia had given this right to women.
A recent survey by the Strategic Reforms Unit revealed that due to the lack of logical grounds for divorce many Christian women were forced to live in abusive marriages. In May 2016, the Lahore High Court restored Section 7 of the Divorce Act of 1869 that allowed Christian couples to end marriages on reasonable grounds, however, the court since then had reserved verdict on the basis of strict opposition.
Sources said that in the recent few months there had been an increased debate on the issue and on the arguments presented by the Strategic Reforms Unit and the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, the Punjab government had decided to set foot to ensure relaxation of the Christian family laws.
These issues stood in clear violation of Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan which says that “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law (2) There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex (3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the protection of women and children”.
They said there was a need for more contextualized family laws to combat inadequate legalities and incorrect interpretations of legal provisions. Various Christian majority countries such as the UK and even India had amended the existing divorce laws to provide logical grounds for divorce of marriage couples.
“While countless amendments have been made to Muslim family laws over the years, our governments have always been reluctant to interfere with the religious clergies of the minorities. If executed rightly this move by the Punjab Government will surely be a bold step that could change the way of life for the Christian community that has been oppressed under the banner of these centuries old systems for years,” an official said.
Updated On: March 9th, 2017