LAHORE: Among the non-Muslims communities in Pakistan, the Christians and Parsis have some sort of legal framework concerning their marriage and divorce issues but the others don’t have such legal protection.
The state has not formulated legislative procedures to register their marriage and divorce or to adjudicate their matrimonial disputes. The issues remain in the hands of the clergy instead of being resolved constitutionally.
On the other hand, the Muslim majority community has its Muslim family laws which have also been reformed and revised.
This was a study conducted by the Community World Service to review the existing laws, rules and administrative provisions regarding family issues of religious minorities.
The study was launched at a local hotel on Wednesday in the presence of Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Khalil Tahir Sindhu, MPA Shunila Ruth, former parliamentary secretary for external affairs George Clement and Sikh leader Sardar Kaliyan.
Sindhu said the issue of marriage registration of the minorities, particularly of the Hindus, was very sensitive and it should be dealt with accordingly. He said the newly married couples could not register their marriages at the union council level.
“The Christians are often forced to convert only to get a divorce which is a despicable situation,” he said.
MPA Shunila Ruth said the assemblies had not helped the minority communities in this regard through legislation.
“The chief justice of Pakistan had ordered that the union councils to register these marriages but the order was not implemented,” she lamented.
“The age (of the couple) is often not taken into account. Girls and even boys as young as 10 years old can be married and nothing can be done legally about it. The age limit for marriage among the minority communities should be at least 18 years so that they, especially girls, could develop vocational skills and complete their education,” she suggested.
Ms Ruth further said that for the Muslims’ cases were brought to the Family Courts but for Christians, the cases remained pending for years in Civil Courts. For Hindus, the situation was even worse and the Hindu Marriage Bill was in the Punjab Assembly and yet nothing was being done about it, she deplored, adding that there were no proceedings on the Christian Divorce Bill either.
“All minorities should be taken on board when discussing these family laws, not just the clergy,” she suggested.
Ms Ruth complained that the minority representatives were not elected instead they were selected by their parties which meant those in the assembly were not the real representatives of their communities. However, once they reached the assemblies, they should work for their communities, she said.
Regarding the situation in Youhanabad, Shunila Ruth said police were picking up Christians from their localities without any confirmation of their involvement in the lynching and their families did not have any idea where they had been taken to.
“Police claim that the religious leaders have allowed these steps but religious leaders told me personally that they have not,” she said, saying that it was inhumane to harass people like this.
Regarding Sikh marriage laws, Singh said they were different from other religions and that a separate Sikh marriage act should be devised.
George Clement, Atif Jamil, Sardar Kaliyan Singh and Tariq Javed Tariq also spoke and confirmed that a lack of a Hindu Marriage Act in Pakistan was creating major issues, especially in south Punjab where 0.4million Hindus were residing and were even subject to forced conversions.
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2015