03/05/2016, 10.32
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Pakistan’s religious minorities demand new laws to guarantee civil rights

by Shafique Khokhar

Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and Kalasha present joint study on personal / family laws and the effects of their absence in Pakistan. Minorities demand to be respected like the Islamic majority. In this way they would retain their identity in the broader socio-cultural context. Among the topics discussed, marriage, divorce, dowry, inheritance, adoption of children.


Lahore (AsiaNews) - The approval of some basic principles of law for religious minorities to ensure the civil rights of religious communities in Pakistan and keep their separate identity within the wider socio-political fabric. This is the what representatives of the various religious minorities in the country are seeking in a joint proposal presented March 1. The proposal is strongly supported by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Pakistani Bishops' Conference, which since 1985 has worked to protect marginalized communities from discrimination, ensure fair education and freedom of religion or belief.

The analysis presented at a press conference also includes a study on the situation of minorities in the absence of these laws. The CCJP has listened to the opinions of legal experts, scholars, religious leaders and has brought them together in a document entitled "Proposals for principles of family / personal law for religious minorities in Pakistan." These would regulate various aspects: the age at marriage; registration of the marriage and its dissolution; dowries; divorce and any right to maintenance; succession / inheritance; practices for adoption; custody of the children and their illegitimacy.

The conference was attended by leading members of minority groups. Among them, S. Cecil Chaudhry, Executive Director of CCJP; Arifa Shakeel, coordinator of the program for the CCJP; Sarah Quershi, manager of Faiz Foundation Trust; Amarnath Randhawa and Aroon Kumar, respectively president and secretary general of the Hindu SudharSabha Pakistan.

Chaudhry, in considering the condition of human rights of religious minorities - Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Kalasha - said: "We observe that the lack of laws has favored the increase of stereotypes, lack of understanding, religious fundamentalism, intolerance against traditions and customs of the non-Islamic communities ".

The Catholic leader also stressed that the document in question not only has the basic principles, but also proposes amendments to existing laws. "The Christian Marriage Act of 1872 - he said -, the Anand Marriage Act of 1909 [for the Sikhs, ed] and the Hindu Marriage Bill 2014 require amendments, while the state should seriously consider the formulation of laws for the kalasha community. All the laws that I mentioned have never been changed since their approval. For this reason they do not respond to modern-day needs. "

Chaudhry added that "the Commission believes that this research could be used by the state to write a draft law for the minorities".

Finally, the participants expressed appreciation for the recent approval of the Federal Hindu Marriage Act 2015 [which allows the registration of marriages, ed] and for the various pronouncements of the Supreme Court in the protection and promotion of minorities. But they asked that the legislation to that effect be adopted at both the federal and provincial levels.

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