The recent Balochistan High Court decision on women’s inheritance rights could have a significant societal impact across the country, but only if properly implemented. While on the face of it, the judgment only seems to restate existing laws relating to inheritance rights, in practice, it would help close a massive loophole related to the forgoing of inheritance rights. This loophole is exploited by thousands of men, if not millions, to deprive their sisters of their due rights.
The judgment says that women can’t be denied inheritance rights on the basis of exchange for gifts, allowances, or other forms of payment. The inherited assets must be transferred to all legal heirs before any further mutation of the property can occur. Failure to do so will result in the entire process being voided. This will have a massive impact on protecting women from losing their due share from landholdings and other non-cash assets. While some may feel this adds an unnecessary step to the inheritance process for people who want to cash out, these people are lucky. They are probably educated and independent enough to check on the value of their inherited property and have no reason to mistrust their male relatives.
While the filed case focused on the complex tribal system of Balochistan depriving women of their rights, the truth is that women across the country, even those from middle- and upper-class backgrounds, are defrauded by their families. They are the ones who are either duped or forced into accepting cash amounts that only come to a fraction of what they should be getting.
As we noted, there is already a law on the books to deal with defrauding women of their inheritance — Section 498-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries penalties of five-to-ten years imprisonment. Unfortunately, mechanisms for detecting such fraud were lacking. The judgment addresses this by requiring the government to create awareness through leaflets distributed at girls’ schools and colleges, hospitals, and door-to-door, and through loudspeaker announcements from mosques and madrassas. Nadra will also have to ensure that women’s biodata includes details of their parents and spouses’ families to ensure that they cannot be cut out due to missing paperwork.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2021.
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