HYDERABAD: Christian and Hindu legislators have called for introducing new laws after taking into confidence all segments of minorities to regulate marriage and divorce in their communities.
Consensus should be evolved over all contentious issues before going for the legislation since, for instance, many Christians had serious reservations over the proposed Christian Divorce Act because their holy book prohibited divorce, they said.
They were speaking at a two-day National Caucus Conference on “Marriage legalisation of non-Muslim communities in Pakistan: issues and challenges” organised by the Church World Service here on Saturday.
A PML-N MNA and chairman of the Pakistan Hindu Council, Dr Ramesh Vankwani, discussed the bill he had tabled last year on marriage issues of Hindus and said the bill proposed granting six months time to a couple if it had become inevitable for them to get separated.
It suggested giving another three months to the couple to see whether they could live together again after sorting out issues. The bill fixed the minimum age of a girl for marriage at 18 and for boy at 21 to help curb forced marriages, he said.
The bill being fine-tuned by retired Justice Rana Bhagwandas also proposed a fine for a demand for dowry, he added.
PML-F MPA Nand Kumar Gokhlani said that Dr Ramesh’s bill should incorporate community’s suggestions. Cases of forced conversion were showing a steep rise, he warned.
JUI-F’s Aasiya Nasir from Balochistan cautioned that legislators must see whether their call for new laws was NGO-driven or a serious demand of their community. Anything done in haste would bring harm to the community and any law that sought to stir chaos must be avoided, she said.
She advocated taking the church on board over legislation on divorce and said that Christianity did not sanction divorce; hence the religious leaders’ reservations over the law.
She called for evolving consensus over the issue and said that even the Council of Islamic Ideology wanted to hear Christian religious leaders on the proposed Christian Divorce Act submitted by the federal government.
PTI MPA in the Punjab Assembly Shunila Ruth disagreed with the JUI-F legislator and said the parliamentarians should make the church understand the gravity of the problem. Only Roman Catholics had opposed the proposed law while the Church of Pakistan had agreed to it. There was a big gap between political leadership and the church which needed to be bridged, she said.
PML-N MPA from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Fredrick Azeem rejected Ms Ruth’s contention and urged parents to raise their children in the light of Christian teachings to help them have a better understanding of their religion.
He urged religious leaders to play their role in this regard and said “we should be called ‘Masihi’ not Christians”. Cases of forced conversion should be referred to courts, he said.
PML-N MNA from Balochistan Khalil George called for extensive consultation over the proposed law.
Minority legislators could not get anything done single-handedly, he said, calling for bringing closer Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs to create inter-faith harmony.