Zia-Era Change To Christian Divorce Law Undone
The Lahore High Court has restored a provision of the Christian Divorce Act, 1869, enabling men to divorce their wives in a dignified manner.
Section 7 of the Act had been expunged through an ordinance by former military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq in 1981, leaving no ground for Christian men to divorce their wives except on adultery charges.
The court passed the order on a petition filed by Amin Masih, who wanted to divorce his wife but not on adultery charges.
Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah restored Section 7 of the law and also declared the 1981 ordinance against the Constitution.
Advocate Sheraz Zaka argued on behalf of the petitioner that Section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act of 1869 should be restored according to which the principles of courts of England would apply as far as family / divorce issues of Christians were concerned.
Senior lawyer and rights activist Hina Jillani, who assisted the court in the case, said that the condition of accusing wife of adultery for divorce should be abolished for being unconstitutional.
He said after restoration of Section 7 there would be other just and reasonable grounds available in order to seek a divorce by a Christian man.
At present there was only one ground available under Section 10 of the Act and it was adultery, which was in conflict with the dignity of a woman, he argued.
The counsel said the Matrimonial Causes Act was now interpreted in the UK in a liberal manner providing a cushion to both Christian men and women to part their ways if marriage was irretrievably broken down or with mutual consent, but this ground was not available in Pakistan.
Advocate Zaka argued that since the protection of minorities was one of the norms / salient features of the Constitution of Pakistan, the omission of Section 7 of the Divorce Act, 1869, through the ordinance should be declared unconstitutional as well as null and void.
The federal government’s counsel, Hina Hafeezullah, pointed out that India had also changed the law, facilitating the Christian community. She said the language used in Section 7 of the Act was very offensive.
Assistant Advocate General Anwar Hussain said the Punjab government had taken initiative to amend the law, but it was not possible because of lack of consensus in Christian community leadership.
He said several countries had started the process to amend the Christian divorce law since 1918.
Senior lawyer and rights activist Hina Jillani assisted the court in the case and said the condition of accusing wife of adultery for the divorce should be abolished for being unconstitutional.
In the past many Christian men and women changed their religion to divorce each other honourably, she added.
This news was previously published in DAWN and is being republished here with permission.