Pakistan's Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazarai addresses the Interfaith Conference for Young Women on Feb. 18. (Photo: Zahid Hussain Khan/UCA News)
The government of Pakistan has finalized the draft of a new bill to address the long-standing demand of the Christian minority to address laws governing marriage and divorce.
“We have prepared the Christian Marriage and Divorce Bill by consulting relevant stakeholders. They have acknowledged that there were several issues which were required to be resolved,” said Shireen Mazarai, human rights minister.
Mazari made the announcement while speaking at the Interfaith Conference for Young Women organized by the Catholic Diocese of Peshawar, the Church of Pakistan, Jamia Ashrafi Islamic Seminary and the Interfaith Harmony Council on Feb. 18.
“Our government has taken a rights-based approach to protect the rights of minorities guaranteed by the constitution. Women and minorities are among the most vulnerable sections of society and thus require special safeguards to ensure that their rights are protected,” she said.
She said that the beauty of Pakistan lies in the diversity of people from various religious and social backgrounds, which also enriches society.
“Islam gives us the responsibility to respect all religions. Pakistan is among the countries which provides personal laws to minorities, including the Hindu Marriage Bill,” she added.
The minister said the government had also taken some legislative measures to protect women’s rights such as the Anti-Rape Ordinance and the Forced Conversion Marriages Bill.
Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulema Council and the prime minister’s aide on minority affairs, said women and girls play an important role in the reformation process.
“The constitution of Pakistan also provides equal rights to non-Muslims. There is no concept of forced marriages in Islam. Minorities should not feel scared or threatened. The state will go after the elements who are trying to harm them,” he said.
“We expect a positive role from human rights groups and non-government organizations and invite them to constructive talks.”
The proposed Christian Marriage and Divorce Act, if passed by parliament, will replace the Christian Divorce Act, 1869, and the Christian Marriage Act, 1872.
Four million Christians, who account for around 5 percent of Pakistan's population, have been deeply affected by the absence of laws governing their marriages and divorces.
The bill will amend 140-year-old Christian personal laws.