Once passed by the parliament, the proposed Christian Divorce (Amendment) Bill 2011 will bring some vital changes in the present applicable law of 1862 that provides only one ground of divorce for people belonging to Christian community.
In the proposed draft presented by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) to the Ministry of Human Rights, 10 other grounds of the divorce have been provided for the parties. Moreover, court has been asked to decide the divorce petition with a time span of six months. Currently, the Ministry of Human Rights is examining the bill.
In its statement of objectives and reasons, the draft bill states that present Christian Divorce Act 1869 is a product of colonial rule and more than a century old. Grounds of divorce provided are very limited, hard to prove and also discriminatory against women. A number of its provisions have become obsolete and redundant.
It says that the suggested amendments in this bill will ensure to bring its provisions in accordance with recent developments in the contemporary world and provides other grounds of divorce while ensuring speedy justice. Under the present applicable law of 1862, there is only one ground of divorce available, which is raising allegations against the chastity of the spouse.
To finalise the draft, three consultations were organised by Idara-e-Amn-o-Insaf (Committee for Peace and Justice) Lahore in 1998, 1999 and 2001 on Christian Family Laws. The senior clergy of all denominations were taken into confidence. The prepared revised draft was sent in advance to the church leaders for consideration for their meaningful deliberations during the consultations.
The church leaders who participated in these consultations were Catholic Church in Pakistan, Church of Pakistan (unity of five churches that included the Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and Church of Scotland merged in one in 1970), United Presbyterian Church, Reformed Church of Pakistan, Salvation Army Pakistan and the Pentecostal Churches.
The consultations were also attended by two Archbishops, eight Bishops, Heads of Churches, Principals of Theological Colleges, and Cannon Lawyers, senior lawyers of Christian community, Young Men Christian Association, Young Women Christian Association and Christian leaders from different walks of life.
While drafting revised statutes, it was pointed out that much more than century old laws not only smacked colonial rule but many of the provisions had become obsolete with the passage of time, were discriminatory against women and because of the rigidity of some provisions promoted injustice.
It was noticed there was repeated reference to three Churches that do not exist as those merged in historic church unity in 1970. There were certain provisions of Divorce Act that were hit by Hudood laws and created serious issues for Christian litigants. The drafts were placed in the above consultations before the participants, which were thoroughly examined, and a consensus was arrived at after some amendments to the draft.
The Christian leadership formed a three-member committee consisting of Bishop Samuel Robert Azariah (then serving as the Moderator Bishop of Church of Pakistan), Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry and Ch. Naeem Shakir Advocate. This copy of the revised statutes were sent to Mr. Khalid Anwar, the then Law Minister but soon thereafter the civil government was overthrown by military regime. Later a copy was sent to Justice Faqir Mohammad Khokhar then serving as the Federal Law Secretary.
The said draft has been reviewed by a three member committee consisting Justice Majida Rizvi, Justice Kailash Kohali and Ch. Naeem Shakir, Advocate Supreme Court of Pakistan that was constituted by the National Commission on the Status of Women.
Under the proposed law, the husband and wife of Christian faith can present petition for the dissolution of marriage to the court when, since the solemnization of marriage, husband or wife has changed his or her profession of Christianity for the profession of some other religion or have gone through a form of marriage with another woman or man.
They can apply for divorce if the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent or the respondent has contracted another marriage and is living an adulterous life.
Another condition relates to rape, sodomy or bestiality committed by the husband. If there has been an irretrievable breakdown of marriage between the two spouses and it would be inflicting tyranny on both or either of the spouses by carrying forth the marital tie, the petition for divorce can be filed. The marriage could also dissolve if the respondent has deserted the petitioner for over two years without sufficient cause.
If the marriage has not been consummated within one year since the marriage, the parties have lived in separation from each other under strained relations for a period of more than two and a half years or the respondent has been habitual in committing cruelty (physical or mental) against the petitioner, the divorce can be filed in the court. Any other ground wherein either of the spouses is exposed to danger to life can form ground for dissolution of marriage.