LAHORE (Staff Report) – Christian men can now divorce their wives on grounds other than adultery, after the Lahore High Court restored the Section 7 of the Christian Divorce Act 1869.
With the restoration of Section 7, omitted from the Christian Divorce Act by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1981, the Christian couples can now initiate divorce proceedings with mutual consent, without resorting to allegations of adultery.
Hearing the case on Monday, LHC Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah declared the Federal Law and Clause Ordinance 1981 as void, under which the Section 7 was cast aside from the Christian Divorce Act.
Earlier, Amin Masih, a local resident, had filed the petition in the LHC, submitting that section 7 of Christian Divorce Act 1869 should be restored. The petition also contended that principles applied by courts in England should determine family/divorce issues of Christians in Pakistan.
The petitioner through his counsel Advocate Sheraz Zaka submitted that presently, there was only one ground available under section 10 of the Act and it was adultery, which was in conflict with the dignity of a woman.
The Matrimonial Causes Act was recently interpreted in a liberal manner in the United Kingdom which provided a cushion to both Christian men and women to part ways if their marriage was an irretrievably broken. However, this ground was not available in Pakistan for Christians, he said.
Advocate Hina Jillani assisted the court as amicus curie. Hina Hafeezullah, the counsel of the federal government, contended that India had also changed the law facilitating the Christian community. She submitted that the language used in the section 7 of the Act was very offensive.
“In past many Christian men and women changed their religion to divorce each other with some honour,” the law officer told the court.
Assistant Advocate General Anwar Hussain submitted that the provincial government had taken initiative to amend the law but a lack of consensus within the Christian community’s leadership had caused the delay. He added that many countries had started the amendment process of the Christian divorce law since 1918.
After hearing both sides, Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of LHC set aside Section 7 of Christian Divorce Act 1869 and enabled Christians to part their ways with mutual consent if their marriages were irretrievably broken down.
However, some Christians have criticized the ruling, complaining that the restoration of Section 7 will taint the sanctity of Christian marriage. They plan to challenge the Lahore High Court’ decision in the apex court.