» 02/07/2012 15:04
Pakistani Christians for divorce law that saves women from polygamy
by Jibran Khan
The National Commission for Justice and Peace and leading Catholic and Protestant religious leaders are among the promoters of changes to the law. Currently, an 1869 law is in place, which is discriminatory towards Christians. The goal is greater protection for women who will be able to settle cases of abuses and polygamy more quickly.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – At the end of a long political and legal battle, Christians have won a first round against the country’s marriage and divorce laws. With the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church leading the charge, a series of amendments were presented to the Human Rights Ministry.
For the past few years, representatives of the Catholic Church, the Church of Pakistan (which is the result of the merger of the Anglican, Methodist and Lutheran Churches with the Church of Scotland), the United Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Church of Pakistan, Pentecostal Churches and the Salvation Army Pakistan have pushed for changes to a 1869 law in order to give Christian minorities greater legal rights and better protection in a country where they are discriminated even in such area.
Christian marriage and divorce are regulated by the Christian Marriages Act of 1872 and the Divorce Act of 1869, which are now outdated parts of the civil law. Under such laws, it can take years before a court dissolves a marriage. For the Muslim majority, getting married and divorcing are relatively easy, a matter of a few months. For Christians, the issues at stake are freedom of conscience, the sacredness of the institution and more.
Substantive changes to the law will soon go before Pakistan’s National Assembly to improve the divorce law. Until now, grounds for the dissolution were limited to adultery and the process could take up to eight years and required a decision of the High Court.
For human rights activists and Church leaders, the matter also involves Christian women married to men who, after converting to Islam, took other wives, creating polygamous families as well as Christian women repudiated by their husbands or victims of spousal abuse. Bigamy and adultery among Christians are outside the scope of the 1964 Family Courts Ordinance, which applies only to Muslims.
In the past, a three-member Christian committee had tried to promote changes but their action was interrupted by the October 1999 coup by General Pervez Musharraf.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Fr Anwar Patras, a priest in Rawalpindi, the proposed changes are a “great step”. In his view, “efforts are finally becoming a reality.” The existing laws were a source of “great suffering” with cases languishing in court “for over eight years without any result.”
At present, a marriage can be dissolved under various circumstances; for example, if it is not consummated within a year of its celebration or if a spouse is exposed to dangers. For such circumstances, Christian religious leaders want new rules to speed up the process of dissolution.