ISLAMABAD- The federal government has proposed amendments in the Christian Marriage Act, 1872 (Act No XV of 1872) and Divorce Act, 1869 (IV of 1869), the copies of both the draft bill and the law ministry is available with The Nation.

Ministry for law, justice and human rights has prepared a draft bill in this regard and submitted a summary, with the consent of law minister, to the federal cabinet for approval.

The solemnisation of marriage and divorce among Pakistani Christians has been dealt under the Christian Marriage Act, 1872 (Act No XV of 1872) and Divorce Act, 1869 (IV of 1869) respectively. Both the said acts were enacted more than 142 years ago under the colonial rule/period in order to meet the requirements in the prevailing circumstances.

The ministry of law, justice and human rights has conducted series of consultations/meetings with the leader of Catholic Church, Church of Pakistan, United Presbyterian Church, Reformed Church, Salvation Army Pakistan, Pentecostal Churches and other relevant stakeholder, including the National Commission on the Status of Women, and finalised a draft for Christian Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2014 and Divorce (Amendment) Bill, 2014.

The ministry of law, justice and human rights has also obtained a no objection certificate from ministry of religious affairs and interfaith harmony in this regard.

The law ministry in the summary to the cabinet pointed out that Christian Marriage Act, 1872 is discriminatory to the extent that it differentiates between a native Christian belonging to Indo-Pak sub-continent and the Christian of other areas of world. The said act also provides a role of Church of England, Church of Scotland and Church of Rome in the solemnisation of Christian marriage in Pakistan, their role is sign of colonial rule/period and the same is no longer required.

In the proposed bill certain outdated sections dealing with unnecessary notices and role of Church of England, Church of Scotland and Church of Rome Catholic with respect to solemnisation of marriage of Christian citizen of Pakistan and other sections pertaining to applicability of the act in the acceding states have been deleted/omitted.

The bill proposed that each marriage for registration under this act shall comply with that; the age of the parties to the marriage shall not be less than 18 years; neither of the persons intending to be married shall have a spouse living at the time of marriage; neither of the parties intending to be married are within the prohibited degree relationship; no other legal impediment exists in registration of the marriage and at least two credible witnesses are present at the time of registration of the marriage.

Each church shall have the right to solemnise a marriage according to its own rites, principles or rituals. The registrar general, appointed through notification in the official gazette, shall maintain record of marriage certificate in a register maintained by his office according to the date and be numbered. Each marriage between persons, one or both of whom are Christians, shall be registered in accordance with the provisions of this act.

The bill says, "Whoever prepares or submits a false oath, declaration, notice, certificate of marriage or contravenes any provision of this act or the rules made hereunder shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under sections 191, 192 and 193 of the Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860)."

About the Divorce Act, 1869 the law ministry summary stated it is noteworthy that only one ground in the form of raising allegation of adultery against his wife is available to a husband for dissolution of marriage. Moreover, under the said act, it is obligatory for husband to implead the adulterer as co-respondent in a suit for dissolution of marriage and also a husband may claim damages from adulterer as envisaged in section 11 and 34 of the said Act respectively. This whole procedure appears to be unnecessary in family matters. Therefore, in view of change social norms and circumstances, nine grounds have now been proposed to be included on the basis of which petition for dissolution of marriage can be filed by either spouse.