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Pakistan passes landmark Hindu marriage Bill

Pakistan passes landmark Hindu marriage Bill
In a historic move, Pakistan’s parliament has passed the much-delayed Bill to enable the country’s minority Hindu community to register their marriages.

The first-ever national law was passed on Monday, after the draft was presented in the lower house or the National Assembly by minister for human rights Kamran Micheal.

The Nation newspaper reported that the Bill sets the minimum age for marriage for Hindus at 18. 

The minimum legal age for marriage for citizens of other religions is 18 for men and 16 for women.

Breaking the law on the minimum age would result in six months’ jail and a Rs 5,000 fine.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates 21 per cent of women aged 20 to 24 years in Pakistan were first married before age 18, with three per cent married before age 16.

Zohra Yusuf, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the proof of marriage would offer greater protection to Hindu women.

“Once marriages are registered, at least they have certain rights that are ensured,” she said.

Widows, in particular, were disadvantaged, she said, being unable to prove marriage to their husbands in order to gain benefits of government welfare schemes. The new law legalises remarriage for a widow six months after the husband’s death.

It also grants Hindus the right to divorce, with women having the additional right to do so on grounds of negligence, bigamy or having been married before 18.

Activists, however, warn that more needs to be done on the issue of abductions and forced conversions.

“When there is suspicion of a forced marriage, it has to be investigated. Currently, members of the Hindu community say that no one listens to them, not even the courts,” said Yusuf.

The National Assembly passed the Bill after 10 months of deliberations. Now it needs to be passed by the Senate where it is expected to be cleared without any significant delay.

Hindus make up approximately 1.6 per cent of Pakistan’s Muslim-majority 190 million population, but they have not had any legal mechanisms to register their marriages since independence in 1947.

Christians, the other main religious minority, have a British law dating back to 1870 regulating their marriages.

Nuptial rules
  •    According to the bill, the minimum age for marriage for Hindus is 18 years
  •   The minimum age for marriage for other religions is 18 for men and 16 for women
  •   Breaking the law on the minimum age would result in six months’ jail and a Rs 5,000 fine
  •  The new law legalises remarriage for a widow six months after the husband’s death
  •  It also grants Hindus the right to divorce, with women having the additional right to do so on grounds of negligence, bigamy or having been married before 18
  • There are approximately 1.6% Hindus in Pakistan. But as of now, they did not have any legal mechanism to get their marriages registered
  • Christians, the other main religious minority, have a British law, regulating marriages, dating back to 1870
Agencies

Agencies

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