A private members’ bill was tabled in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on March 2 for banning dowry and placing restrictions on bridal gifts and marriage expenses. The KP Dowry, Bridal Gift and Marriage Functions Restriction Bill, 2017 was tabled by deputy speaker Mehr Taj Roghani and MPA Rashida Riffat.

The bill is an amalgamation of the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976 and the Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious Displays and Wasteful Expenses) Ordinance, 2000 – the two laws presently applicable in the province for placing restrictions on marriage-related issues, including dowry, bridal gifts and marriage functions.

About four decades have passed since the enactment of the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976, but the law has turned into a forgotten piece of legislation. Keeping in view the present day realities and continuous depreciation of currency in the country, drastic changes are required in this law for enhancing the ceiling placed on value of dowry, gifts and penalties for contravention of the law.

The KP Assembly had passed a unanimous resolution in 2010, asking the provincial government to place a complete ban on the custom of dowry. The resolution had stated that the custom of dowry had turned into a menace and was a major cause of unrest in the society.

Following the passage of the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 2010, issues related to marriage and divorce are now provincial subjects and the provincial assembly has the powers to enact laws on these issues.

The Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, 1976, was enacted in June 1976 by replacing the West Pakistan Dowry (Prohibition of Display) Act, 1967. That law had imposed a complete ban on the display and exhibition of dowry and presents. The law did not place restriction on the quantity or value of dowry and bridal gifts. For breach of the provisions of that law the penalty provided was imprisonment for one year or fine up to Rs5,000 or both.

The 1976 law places restriction on the value of dowry and bridal gifts as Rs5,000. It also fixes ceiling of Rs2,500 as expenditure in marriage ceremonies. Furthermore, the law fixes value of presents given to the bride and bridegroom at only Rs100.

The law has also made it binding to furnish a list of dowry, bridal gifts and presents and the details of expenditure incurred on marriage ceremonies. The penalty provided for contravention of any provision of the act is imprisonment up to six months or fine up to Rs10,000 or both.

The law has empowered only the family courts to try offences under it. However, no family court could take cognizance of an offence punishable under this law except on a complaint in writing made by, or under the authority of, the deputy commissioner within nine months from the date of Nikah (marriage contract), and if Rukhsati (wedding) takes place sometime after Nikah , from the date of such Rukhsati.

Compared to the existing law, in the KP bill it is proposed to place a complete ban on dowry articles either given by parents or any other family members of any other person to the bride. The proposed law also recommends that the aggregate value of gift amount or articles given to the bride by her parents or any other family members shall not exceed Rs10,000.

The bill proposes punishment for violation of different provisions, which shall be punishable with fine up to Rs200,000 or imprisonment of up to three months or both. It is proposed that anyone from bridegroom family or anyone on their behalf forcing the bride’s family for dowry amount or article shall be punishable up to two months imprisonment or fine of up to Rs300,000 or both.

The proposed law also suggests introducing a ceiling of Rs75,000 as permissible expenditure for each marriage ceremony, including Baraat or Walima. It is proposed that a person or family celebrating Nikah or Baraat or organisaing the marriage of any other person shall not serve meals or other edibles except beverages to the people participating in the ceremony. It is suggested that on Walima ceremony there shall be only one dish of rice, one dish of gravy and one sweet dish allowed.

The present law as well as the proposed KP law defines dowry as “any property given before, at or after the marriage either directly or indirectly, to the bride by her parents in connection with the marriage, but it does not include property which the bride may inherit under the laws of inheritance and succession applicable to her.”

The Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan had in 1992 recommended several changes to the 1976 law. It had recommended to enhance the limit of dowry/bridal gifts from Rs5,000 to Rs50,000. It also recommended enhancing marriage expenses from Rs2,500 to Rs25,000.

The secretariat of the commission also prepared a draft law on the subject in 2003, wherein various recommendations were made. The draft proposed that the maximum limit of marriage expenses may be enhanced from Rs2,500, as given in the present law, to Rs50,000. It was added that maximum value of dowry given by parents/guardian may be enhanced from Rs5,000 to Rs50,000. The draft provided that the penalty of fine be enhanced from Rs10,000 to Rs20,000 whereas imprisonment be reduced from six months to three months.

Legal experts believe that one of the major reasons for non-implementation of the law was the unrealistic ceilings on different expenditures. They say that the provincial assembly while adopting the law shall also set realistic ceilings on expenses incurred during different ceremonies. Moreover, the lawmakers may also introduce a provision for restricting the number of guests in Baarat and Walima ceremonies.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2017