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24 / February / 2016

Muslim province in Pakistan passes landmark marriage bill for Hindu minority

Through its 2015 Policy Dialogue, Club de Madrid gathered experts, policymakers and opinion formers to produce a set of principles […]

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Through its 2015 Policy Dialogue, Club de Madrid gathered experts, policymakers and opinion formers to produce a set of principles and values on how to confront and prevent violent extremism and  radicalization; the Global Consensus. In this framework, 10 benchmarks were specified as recommendations on how to tackle this global scourge.

The first benchmark calls upon “all leaders to have a genuine commitment to open and accountable government, and respecting the rights of minorities.” Supporting this principle, Sindh became the first Pakistani province ever to grant its small Hindu minority the right to officially register their marriages. The Bill was moved by Sindh Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro.

Only three per cent out of the total 190 million people in Pakistan is non-Muslim. While Christians have a British law dating back to 1870 regulating their marriages, Hindus had no legal mechanism to register their marriages. Without this law, Hindu women were easy targets for abduction, rape, forced conversions and forced marriage, since they had problems proving the legitimacy of their relationships before the law. Widows were especially vulnerable.

The objective of this Bill is to protect the country’s 3 million Hindus and provide a formal process of marriage registration for Hindus. It can also be applied retroactively to existing marriages.

This Bill also allows women to get a divorce and get protection. Furthermore, it ensures the conservation of women’s matrimonial rights, like widow’s pensions, a share in the husband’s property and the legal minimum marriage age of 18 years.

Another positive aspect of the Bill is that it will help couples find jobs in foreign countries, previously impossible due to the absence of a legal marriage certificate.

The Marriage Bill is a step forward in respecting the rights of minorities in Pakistan. Many are hopeful that this bill will reach the national level, granting minorities the same marriage rights as any Pakistani citizen.

Pakistan’s Hindus and other minorities have faced a surge of violence in recent years as militant Islamists attack groups that do not share their strict interpretation of Islam.

All of Pakistan’s minorities – Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis and even Shi’ite Muslims – say they feel the state fails to protect them and sometimes even tolerates violence against them.

Many complain the problem has become worse since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif won an election in 2013. Sharif has close ties with Saudi Arabia, whose brand of conservative Wahhabi Islam is preached by many of the people who denounce minorities.

The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom said in a recent report that conditions in Pakistan had “hit an all-time low” and governments had failed to adequately protect minorities and arrest those who attack or discriminate against them.

But many see the passage of the bill as a ray of hope.

“Now after the passage of this bill in the Sindh assembly, after 70 years, Hindus will also have a marriage certificate just like Muslims do,” said Shahnaz Sheedi, the coordinator for South Asia Partnership Pakistan, a civil rights movement.

We hope that bill will be soon adopted at the national level,” she said. The National Assembly in Islamabad has been considering such a bill it is still in committee.

(Source: Reuters – “Province in Muslim Pakistan Passes Landmark Hindu Marriage Bill“)

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