Experts urge government to review draft bill on Christian Matrimonial Laws

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: A Consultation Meeting was held in Islamabad on Tuesday on “Reforms in Christian Marriage and Divorce Law” under the aegis of the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights (PCMR) and the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).

The participant experts reviewed the draft government bill “Christian Marriage and Divorce Act 2019” prepared by the Federal Ministry for Human Rights, and urged the government to introduce further amendments for making the new law cohesive and responsive that serve to address the needs and challenges relating to Christian marriages, fairly and equally.

The experts agreed that the new law should provide for a simpler mechanism for registration and certification of marriages; more importantly, it needs to cater to the realities of 21st century by encouraging the use of technology to facilitate record-keeping, inter-office communication, etc. The new law should build important intersections among the institutions dealing with registration of births, marriages and deaths.

They urged the government to involve relevant stakeholders in deliberations over the proposed draft, and observed that obsolete and impractical procedures, such as multiple registration, need to be removed in order to develop a dynamic and comprehensive piece of legislation that effectively regulates the matrimonial affairs of Christian couples in Pakistan.

The experts group included Bishop Emeritus of Lahore, Dr. Alexander John Malik, Dr. Yaqub Khan Bangash (Educationist), Jamshed Rehmatullah (Jurist), Fr. Jacob Dogra, Fr. Asif John (Vicar General, Islamabad- Rawalpindi Diocese), Dr. Jennifer Bennette, Ms. Fahmida Saleem, and PCMR members: Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Rubina Massy, Maria Iqbal Tarana and Mr. Peter Jacob (Executive Directors, CSJ).

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Dr. Alexander John Malik said, “We note with concern that the government has not taken the stakeholders on board in the preparation of the draft bill. If someone has any doubt that the stakeholders among Christian community will fail to comprehend the nuance of law-making or fail to cooperate, this apprehension is absolutely unfounded.” “There is an extensive need to engage with, and build consensus, among segments of civil society as well as denominations within the Christian community on the key aspects of Christian family life,” he added.

The Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice, and the Chairperson of the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights, Peter Jacob called upon the federal government to make the drafting and passing the law more inclusive, and emphasized that the law should explicitly incorporate protections available to citizens in matters concerning marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance and custody.

Proceedings also included the screening of a documentary film by PCMR highlighting the need for systemic reforms in marriage laws of religious minorities, including, Kailash, Christian and Bahai communities.

The consultation concluded with a resolve that all experts will continue to engage with relevant government officials, and in doing so, help foster a culture of State accountability vis-à-vis minority-related issues together with the Centre for Social Justice and the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights.