The Christian Marriage and Divorce Bill between two conflicting ministries – Pakistan

A couple get married in a church. The Christian Marriage and Divorce Bill aims to update 140-year-old Christian personal laws. – Photo of the writer

ISLAMABAD: Years after efforts to update Christian personal laws began, Christian Marriage and Divorce Bill 2019 has become the subject of an ideological divide between progressive elements and Catholic clergy in Pakistan as well as a gap between the ministries of human rights and law and justice.

Read: “The absence of marriage laws for minorities deprives them of many rights”

The bill, which aims to update Christian personal laws that have been in effect for 140 years, was approved by the federal cabinet in August. At the time, the Minister of Human Rights, Shireen Mazari, expressed confidence that the bill would soon be presented to the National Assembly, her ministry being the author.

But the bill, which would update the Christian Divorce Act of 1869 and the Christian Marriage Act of 1870, is now in limbo and the human rights and law departments have claimed that the bill belonged to the other department.

The bill was first sent to the Ministry of Justice by the Ministry of Human Rights for consideration.

Maleeka Bokhari, the Parliamentary Secretary for Law, organized several rounds of meetings with three main parties: the Community World Service – National Lobbying Delegation (CWS / NLD), a second group led by Peter Jacob from the Center for Social Justice and a group Catholic. led by Father James Channan.

Approved by cabinet in August, bill mired in ideological divide and bureaucratic divide

While the first two groups are supporters of the law, the third is a staunch opponent and one of the main reasons for its delay.

After consultations were completed, the bill was sent back to the Ministry of Human Rights in September.

A justice ministry official said there were “serious concerns” about the project, and “the human rights ministry is expected to take into account the concerns of all stakeholders.”

The Human Rights Ministry returned the bill to the Justice Ministry during the second week of October after meetings with the three groups in question. But the Justice Department maintained that not all of its concerns had been addressed.

The key question for both ministries arises from the objections advanced by the Catholic clergy. Father James Channan, who is one of the groups sharing his concerns with the government, said Pakistan’s clergy did not recognize a number of provisions in the draft, including the right to divorce.

“We represent the largest group of Christians in Pakistan and there are approximately 1.2 billion Catholics in the world led by the Pope,” he said. “This law, like the Christian Divorce Act of 1869, is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and to the Christian laws of the Canon Code.”

The second group involved, led by Mr. Jacob, also includes Bishop Alexander John. They believe in progressive laws and praised the ministries of law and human rights for incorporating their recommendations into the bill.

“The Council of Islamic Ideology or the Orthodox churches should play no role in laws relating to individuals in the modern era,” said Jacob.

CWS / NLD, the third party, has been working to update Christian marriage and divorce laws for over four years. They believe that it is the responsibility of the state and not of the clergy to formulate legislation that benefits citizens.

“These are delaying tactics by a few individuals now that the bill is in its final stages,” said Asif Adeel of CWS. Dawn.

He added that there were several rounds of consultations held by Kamran Michael, the human rights minister under the last PML-N government, and later by former human rights minister Mumtaz Ahmed Tarar. .

“Such people should have come by then,” he said.

He recalled that Mr. Tarar announced in October 2017 that the Christian Marriage and Divorce Bill would be forwarded to cabinet for final approval.

“Such people have delayed it for two years and now a group wants to delay the bill further,” Aqeel said. “Many problems can be solved and added when the bill is considered by the standing committees. “

But when will the bill reach the standing committees?

At a meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights on October 7, the Minister of Human Rights, Dr Shireen Mazari, complained to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of the committee. , that the Legal Division is deliberately delaying public policy legislation.

A senior Justice Ministry official said they had to follow the rules they set.

“It’s not unique to this project. It is a matter of routine that if the stakeholders want to give their opinion, it is duly taken into account by the Ministry of Justice. In this case, serious concerns were expressed by some members of the Christian community, mainly the clergy, ”said the official. Dawn.

The official said these concerns have been passed on to the Human Rights Ministry to be incorporated into the bill. The Ministry of Human Rights made some amendments to the bill, based on recommendations from the Ministry of Justice.

The human rights ministry is unwilling to welcome outright opposition to any law allowing divorce, a human rights ministry official said.

“We want a progressive law that meets the needs of the modern-day Christian community,” said the official, who also said the project was referred to the Law Department in early October.

The senior law ministry official said Dawn they did not receive the project.

To end the discussion between the two ministries at the October 7 meeting, Bhutto Zardari said the case involved two government departments and they should resolve it before submitting anything to the committee.

But with the two departments still singled out nearly a month later, the question – and the future of the bill – remains unresolved.

Posted in Dawn, le 5 November 2019

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