Church endorsements for reform of Pakistan’s divorce laws

Roman Catholic and Church of Pakistan leaders have applauded a ruling by the Lahore High Court reforming the country’s Christian divorce laws, permitting grounds for divorce other than adultery

Roman Catholic and Church of Pakistan leaders have applauded a ruling by the Lahore High Court reforming the country’s Christian divorce laws, permitting grounds for divorce other than adultery. On 23 May 2016 the court reinstated Section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act 1869. In 1981 the Government of General Zia ul Haq changed the code to read:  “Any husband may present a petition to the District Court or to the High Court, praying that his marriage may be dissolved on the ground that his wife has been guilty of adultery.” Christian women could not petition the court for a divorce nor were any grounds for divorce acceptable but proven adultery on the part of the wife. The 1869 Act, modeled on English law, permitted husband or wife to petition for a divorce on multiple grounds.  A Christian man who sought to divorce his wife for reasons other than adultery or a Christian woman who wanted a divorce could convert to Islam to obtain a divorce, however. Church leaders have long argued the 1981 rules were not established to strengthen marriage, but to promote conversion to Islam. In the case at bar, Amin Masih, a Christian Pakistani, had asked that the provisions of the 1981 divorce act be overturned, arguing the current law was arbitrary and unfair. In his petition, Mr. Masih said he had divorced his wife, but the dissolution of their marriage was not recognized by the courts, as he was not willing to disparage his wife’s character falsely by claiming she had committed adultery, when the grounds for their divorce was mutual incompatibility. divorce act.  In February, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah gave formal notice to the government that he would review the constitutionality of the divorce act, and asked the former moderator of the Church of Pakistan, the Most Rev. Alexander Malik, (pictured) and the Bishop of Lahore, the Rt. Rev. Irfan Jamil, to offer their perspective on the law as it applies to Christians. The Church of Pakistan bishops submitted briefs urging a return to the provisions of the 1869 Act. In February, Pakistan’s Catholic bishops released a report, Family/Personal Laws for the Religious Minorities in Pakistan, calling for the inclusion of domestic violence, sexual violence, mental or terminal physical illness and intentionally not fulfilling any financial, emotional or physical obligations as grounds for divorce.

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