Christian Divorce Act 1869: Human rights ministers against changes in law

LHC again reserves verdict on petition challenging Zia-era amendment

Rana Tanveer January 20, 2017

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court chief justice reserved his judgment in a case challenging a Zia-era amendment to the Christian Divorce Act 1869 as the federal and provincial ministers on human rights, alongside church representatives, defended the amendment in the legislation.

Kamran Michael and Khalil Tahir Sindhu and five representatives of different churches appeared before the court of LHC Chief Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah to present their point of view.

The hearing was on a petition challenging the insertion of Section 10 of the act by former dictator Ziaul Haq.

The law provided that the only ground for divorce in a Christian marriage was adultery. The petitioner, a member of the Christian community, challenged the provision, requesting there should be other reasons for Christian couples to end a marriage.

Sindhu, Michael and church representatives Joseph Shehzad, Pastor Shahid Mehraj, Dr Majid Able, Francis Gulzar and Emanuel Mani all agreed there should be no change in the law. They contended that according to the Old Testament, adultery was the only reason for divorce.

The CJ asked the respondents if the UK and other Christian countries made changes to laws, thus providing other reasons for separation. He asked why the same should not be introduced to Pakistani legislation.

Advocate Jamshed Rehmatullah, representing the church, said Pakistani Christians were true to the religion and wanted the law unchanged. The lawyer stated this was according to the teachings of the Holy Bible.

Justice Shah replied he was not present to interpret the Holy Bible or the Old Testament and would . instead decide the matter purely in accordance with constitutional provisions.

PML-N Punjab MPA Mary Gill opposed the church representatives and ministers, saying she appeared before the court as a representative of Christian women and not that of a political party.

She said the Christian Divorce Act was created in 1869 and major changes had taken place since on a global scale.

She said the law was not only against Christian women, but against the Constitution of Pakistan.

She said the existing provision in the Christian Divorce Act compelled some people from the religion to convert to end their marriage.

Gill pointed out that this was leading to forced conversion, which should be abolished. She said a woman cannot get a divorce even if her husband does not give proper maintenance, physically tortures his wife or is a drug addict.

After hearing all sides, the CJ reserved the verdict once again.

Justice Mansoor, on May 29, 2016, declared the Federal Law and Clause Ordinance 1981 as null and void. The ordinance had omitted Section 7 from the Christian Divorce Act and inserted Section 10.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2017.


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