Pakistan court annuls Zia-era change to Christian divorce law

The Lahore High Court on Monday restored Section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act, 1869, enabling Christian men to adopt a ’dignified way’ to divorce their wives.

May 24, 2016 04:18 pm | Updated September 12, 2016 08:23 pm IST - Lahore

Taking a cue from India, a Pakistani court has restored a law that was expunged by former military ruler Gen. Ziaul Haq, enabling Christian men to divorce their wives honourably without framing adultery charges.

The Lahore High Court on Monday restored Section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act, 1869, enabling Christian men to adopt a ’dignified way’ to divorce their wives.

The section had been expunged through an ordinance by Gen. Zia in 1981, leaving no ground for Christian men to divorce their wives except on adultery charges.

Admitting the petitioner’s plea and the federal government counsel’s arguments that India has changed this Act too, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah restored the law and declared the Zia-era ordinance null and void.

Federal government’s counsel Hina Hafeezullah said India has also changed the law to facilitate Christian community.

She argued that the language used in the section was “very offensive”.

Petitioner Amin Masih, who wanted to divorce his wife but not on adultery charges, had requested the court to restore the provision undone by the military ruler 35 years ago.

Mr. Masih said he did not want to level the “false allegation” of adultery against his wife.

He said the condition of accusing wife of adultery for divorce should be abolished for being unconstitutional and inhuman.

“There are just and reasonable grounds, other than adultery, to divorce a Christian woman,” he said.

Punjab government’s Assistant Advocate-General Anwar Hussain said the provincial government wanted to amend this controversial law, but it was not possible because of lack of consensus among the Christian community leadership.

He said several countries had started the process to amend the Christian divorce law since 1918.

The court was also told that in the past many Christian men and women changed their religion to divorce each other honourably. The existing law was detrimental to the dignity of Christian women.

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