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LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Monday allowed a petition challenging a provision of the Christian Divorce Act 1869, which requires a Christian couple to use allegation of adultery for dissolution of marriage.

Announcing a short order, Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah said the Christians would be able to depart in a dignified way without accusing each other of adultery.

The chief justice said the court restored section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act 1869 enabling the couples to approach a court of law for dissolution of marriage on ordinary grounds. Reasons would be given in a detailed verdict.

The section 7 of the Act was suspended by then military ruler Ziaul Haq through an ordinance in 1981 leaving no ground for Christian men for divorcing their wives except on adultery charges.

Amin Masih had filed a writ petition through Advocate Sheraz Zaka for the restoration of the section 7 saying he wanted to divorce his wife but without accusing her of adultery.

The counsel argued that the suspended section should be restored according to which the principles of court’s of England would apply as far as family/divorce issues of Christians were concerned. He said by the restoration of section 7 there will be other just and reasonable grounds available in order to seek a divorce by a Christian man.

At present, he said, there was only one ground available under section 10 of the Act and it was adultery, which was in conflict with the dignity of a woman.

The lawyer said in the UK the Matrimonial Causes Act was now interpreted in a liberal manner providing a cushion to both Christian men and women to part their ways if marriage was an irretrievably broken down or with mutual consent, but this ground was not available for Christians living in Pakistan.

Advocate Zaka contended that since protection of minorities was one of the norm/salient features of Constitution of Pakistan, therefore the omission of section 7 of the Divorce Act 1869 through the ordinance should be declared unconstitutional as well as null and void.

In this case, the chief justice had also sought opinion from the Christian religious leaders and scholars.

Federal Minister for Human Rights Senator Kamran Michael had also joined the case proceedings to give his view. He had the opinion that divine laws could not be changed in the name of fundamental rights. Punjab Minister for Minority Affairs Tahir Khalil Sindhu and some Christian scholars had the same point of view when they appeared before the court.

However, PML-N MPA Mary Gill had stated before the court that the Divorce Act was discriminatory in nature as the Constitution provided equal rights to men and women. She said Christian women were forced to quit Christianity due to the divorce law.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2017