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October 10, 2019

Moot highlights concerns over Christian marriage bill draft


October 10, 2019

Highlighting their concerns at the Christian Marriage and Divorce Bill 2019, speakers at a seminar on Tuesday urged the government to further amend the draft to make it cohesive and responsive to the needs and challenges relating to Christian marriages.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) in collaboration with the Peoples Commission for Minority Rights (PCMR) organised the seminar titled ‘Safeguards for Religious Freedom in Christian Marriage Bill 2019, which was approved by the federal cabinet on August 20.

The speakers included Cardinal Joseph Coutts, Rev. Yousaf Fazal (Church of Pakistan), advocate Tabassum Yousaf, Zufiqar Ali Shah, a rights activist, Mangla Sharma, a minority Sindh Assembly member, and Zahid Mansoori, a Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s leader.

Speakers presented a draft of Christian marriage bill, which has not yet been submitted in parliament and is undergoing a pre-assessment by engaging opinion-makers, religious scholars, parliamentarians, social activists, journalists and lawyers.

Speakers discussed the draft of the bill and highlighted the issues impeding social security and religious security for couples who intend to get married or who are seeking divorce through proper channels.

CSJ head Peter Jacob said the Federal Cabinet Division on August 20 approved the draft bill to make changes in the more than a century old Christian Divorce Act 1869 and Christian Marriage Act 1872. This draft bill will be introduced in the National Assembly for further debate and deliberations.

“The draft bill will be presented in the National Assembly but the bill needs to undergo a few amendments as there are loopholes in the document,” he said. Concerned Christian citizens such as the National Lobbying Delegation for Minorities and Civil Society organisations have been raising concerns about the need for the new proposed legislation in order to provide respectable grounds for divorce to Christians.

The existing law allows adultery to be the only ground for dissolution of Christian marriage, which is in flagrant violation of Article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan that upholds human dignity as a fundamental essence of human being, he said. A reconciliation of the present Christian marriage act 06 and the divorce act 07 of the Constitution of Pakistan has been proposed. The process involves discussions, recommendations, suggestions, and opinions, he said.

Tabassum Shah presented the legal aspect of the bill. She added that upon drafting, amending or introducing any law for the Christians in Pakistan, the relevant Canon law expert or lawyer should be part of the process as the Canon law exists as the only law for Christians and is unavoidable.

Rev. Yousaf Fazal spoke about the religious dimension of the bill which states that the religious importance of this bill cannot be overlooked. He stressed that the present societal and cultural values demand a reconciliation of this bill.

Religious freedom

In another seminar organised by the CSJ in collaboration with SZABIST University organised a conference titled ‘Right to Religious Freedom in Pakistan in light of the Constitution 1973, Article 20’, at the varsity, speakers called upon the government to protect the rights of minorities and foster religious tolerance in the country.

The speakers included Jacob, Dr Riaz Shaikh, dean, faculty of social science and education at SZABIST, Allama Muhammad Ahsan Siddiqui, executive director of the Interfaith Commission for Peace and Harmony, Mahnaz Rehman, the Aurat Foundation’s resident director, religious scholar, and Dr Heera Laal,

Speakers said that discrimination perpetuates across the economic, social, political and cultural spheres, and the government should address the disparity of rights and opportunities.