Family law relating to births, deaths, marriages, separation and divorce within the minority communities in Pakistan are outdated or redundant. Separate laws to cover the traditions of each of the minority faiths are required. Most family law relating to minority communities dates back to the colonial era and more modern legislation is stalled, mostly by debate within the various minority faiths and among their sects, of as to what is going to be acceptable in terms of legislation. Christians — Catholic and Protestant — Sikhs, Hindus and Parsis have widely divergent traditions of marriage and divorce. A divorce for a Catholic couple is exceedingly difficult and requires referral up the church hierarchy that may take years. Catholics that defy the conventions may be excommunicated and some have chosen to switch sect rather than go through the pain of church processes. Conversely, Protestant Christians find divorce if not easy then certainly easier than for Catholics. Parsis and Sikhs cannot marry a blood relative and Sikhs wish to set the minimum age for marriage for women at 18 and 21 for men.
This legislative minefield may be due for some welcome and overdue amendment. The lack of proper documentation or processes relating to marriage and divorce in particular, makes difficult something as routine as obtaining a national identity card, for instance. Now Punjab is on the verge of becoming the first province to appoint a separate marriage registrar for Hindu couples, giving their marriage legal recognition and doing away with a range of impediments. For Christians, matters are not as close to resolution and the federal law secretary has said that the government is trying to develop consensus with stakeholders via a range of consultative meetings. He also rightly says that the government does not want to cause offence by proposing or passing legislation that is unworkable or in any way offensive — a very welcome sensitivity. None of this is going to happen overnight, but it is a sign that there is an awareness of the need to meet the legislative requirements of our minority groups, a sign we are happy to see.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2014.
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