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August 22, 2019

Christian Marriage and Divorce Act 2019: Call to involve stakeholders in draft bill preparation

Lahore

August 22, 2019

LAHORE: The Federal Information Minister announced that the Federal Cabinet approved ‘in principle’ the draft bill ‘Christian Marriage and Divorce Act 2019’ on August 20. Although it has been longstanding demand by the members of the civil society and minority communities, the experts have expressed their concerns on the draft and the absence of consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Earlier, on August 19, a group of experts met in Islamabad to discuss draft bill prepared by the Federal Ministry for Human Rights under the aegis of the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights (PCMR) and the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The experts agreed that the new law should provide for a simpler mechanism for registration and certification of marriages; more importantly, it needs to cater to the realities of 21st century by encouraging the use of technology to facilitate record-keeping, inter-office communication, etc. The new law should build important intersections among the institutions dealing with registration of births, marriages and deaths.

A statement issued by head office Centre for Social Justice said the experts reviewed the draft government bill ‘Christian Marriage and Divorce Act 2019’, and urged the government to introduce further amendments for making the new law cohesive and responsive that serve to address the needs and challenges relating to Christian marriages, fairly and equally.

They urged the government to involve relevant stakeholders in deliberations over the proposed draft, and observed that obsolete and impractical procedures, such as multiple registration, need to be removed in order to develop a dynamic and comprehensive piece of legislation that effectively regulates the matrimonial affairs of Christian couples in Pakistan.

The expert group included Bishop Emeritus of Lahore, Dr Alexander John Malik, Dr Yaqub Khan Bangash (Educationist), Jamshed Rehmatullah (Jurist), Fr Jacob Dogra, Fr Asif John (Vicar General, Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese), Dr Jennifer Bennette, Ms Fahmida Saleem, and PCMR members: Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Rubina Massy, Maria Iqbal Tarana and Peter Jacob (Executive Director CSJ).

Dr Alexander John Malik said, “We note with concern that the government has not taken the stakeholders on board in the preparation of the draft bill. If someone has any doubt that the stakeholders among Christian community will fail to comprehend the nuance of law-making or fail to cooperate, this apprehension is absolutely unfounded.”

“There is an extensive need to engage with, and build consensus among segments of civil society as well as denominations within the Christian community on the key aspects of Christian family life,” he added.

The Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice, and the Chairperson of the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights, Peter Jacob called upon the federal government to make the drafting and passing the law more inclusive, and emphasised that the law should explicitly incorporate protections available to citizens in matters concerning marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance and custody. The consultation concluded with a resolve that all experts will continue to engage with relevant government officials, and in doing so, help foster a culture of State accountability vis-à-vis minority-related issues together with the Centre for Social Justice and the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights.

On National Minorities Day observed recently, CSJ highlighted issues such as difficulty in registration of marriage in the Kailash and Bahai community and the need to make laws here. A documentary screened on the occasion shed light on the issue of forced conversion, raising questions like when there was an age to make identity card and an age for lawful marriage, why conversion was being overlooked. Why call it sweet will?

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