Islam takes distinction over other religions when it comes to women’s rights, going as far as allowing a woman to seek divorce from her husband if he fails to fulfill his obligations. Pakistani women, however, face great humiliation and hardships when it comes to safeguarding their rights. This week, The Express Tribune looks at the laws concerning litigation over matrimonial disputes.
Islam clearly gives right to a Muslim man to exercise the right of divorce and the woman to use her right of Khula (dissolution of marriage) from her partner, who fails to look after her, does not remain faithful or develops sexual relations with another person.
The Constitution of Pakistan, which is regarded as the mother of all laws, is in consonance with the Qur’an and Shariah, and guarantees the personal liberty of all citizens. There is a specific subordinate law, the Muslim Family Ordinance (MFO) of 1961, dealing with the rights of married individuals.
Divorce: Three words
According to Shariah law, a husband who does not want to live with his wife anymore can divorce her by saying the word talaq ‘thrice’. But family law requires the husband to apply to the Arbitration Council of his locality’s union council soon after pronouncement of the divorce. The divorce, unless revoked earlier, shall not be effective until 90 days from the day on which the notice is delivered to the Arbitration Council’s chairperson. A divorce won’t be effective during pregnancy, according to sub-section 5 of Section 7 of the MFO.
Section 6 of the law binds the husband to also apply to the UC’s Arbitration Council for permission for a second marriage, which may be granted, subject to any just reason and payment of the fee. In case of failure, the person may be sentenced to one year’s imprisonment or fined up to Rs5,000.
A woman is legally entitled to claim the amount of dowry in addition to the payment of dower or Haq Mehr and monthly maintenance allowance from her husband for herself and also for the children, if any.
Haq Mehr is mandatory in Shariah, which is given by the groom to the bride at the time of marriage. It could be in the form of money or property. In the majority of marriages, however, the amount of Mehr is either not mentioned in the marriage contract form or is deliberately kept very low.
Sub-section 6 of Section 7 of the MFO says: “Nothing shall debar a wife whose marriage has been terminated by talaq effective under this section from remarrying the same husband, without an intervening marriage with a third person, unless such termination is for the third time so effective.”
In reality, however, things are not as simple as they sound. In the majority of cases, the male applicants resort to character assassination of their wives, which is considered the prime reason to break marriage in the male-dominated society. “It gives the men an easy escape from his obligations of paying Haq Mehr and regular monthly maintenance due to the wife and her children,” said Advocate Muhammad Rais Khan, who is the author of the book, ‘Talaq ke Baad’ (After divorce).
The law gives the right to anyone, be it man or woman, to sue anyone, who defames them. “Pakistani women mostly remain silent because they are already under the impression that the divorce would make them a liability on their parents,” explained Advocate Khan. “They can claim huge amount in compensation for the damage to their reputation.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2014.