Three years on, Sindh govt moves to implement Hindu marriage law
KARACHI: After three years, the local government of Sindh has sprung into action to implement the much-awaited “Hindu Marriage Bill 2016” across the province.
In February 2016, the Sindh Assembly became the first provincial assembly in the country to pass the historic bill, providing a mechanism to the Hindu community to formally register their marriages.
In the latest development, local government secretary Khalid Hyder Shah, while issuing two different notifications, directed the municipal authorities to implement the law and disseminate the guidelines to ‘Nikah’ registrars who are also responsible for solemnising Muslim marriages. He urged the authorities to ensure strict compliance of the law.
“The rules related to the Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 were issued by the Sindh minority affairs department in 2017. However, they were not implemented in letter and spirit,” Shah told The Express Tribune. “Now, the local bodies’ officials have been instructed to ensure that the law is not only implemented but is also strictly followed.”
Requirements under the law
According to the Section 6 of the Act – one which relates to the registration of Hindu marriages – every marriage solemnised under the Act shall be registered with the union council or with the ward of any other municipal authority where the marriage ceremony will take place. Per the law, the registration process must be carried out within 45 days of the solemnisation of marriage.
The law also states that there shall be four copies of the certificate of marriage which, after being filled, must be handed over to the municipal officer concerned.
“After verifying the information provided in the certificate and ensuring that all conditions are fulfilled, the municipal officer will keep one copy with him to maintain a record while the remaining copies will be returned to the family members of the bride and the bridegroom,” the law states.
The bill also states that the registration of marriages shall be carried out on the provision of a duly filled form along with the payment of prescribed fee and copies of the couple’s computerised national identity cards (CNICs). The documents must be provided within 45 days of the solemnisation of marriage.
The witnesses, pandits or any other person responsible for solemnising the marriage must also submit copies of their CNICs to complete the registration process.
Apart from the Hindu Marriage Bill, 2016, the directors of local government departments across all the divisional headquarters of Sindh, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur, Larkana and Shaheed Benazirabad, have also been instructed to implement the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013.
Problems and hurdles
Although Sindh became the first province to introduce and subsequently pass the Hindu marriage law in April 2014, even after five years, its implementation remains a challenge for the government.
Once the Hindu Marriage Bill 2016 is enforced, marriages of minors – anyone who is below the age of 18 years – will be strictly prohibited. Violation of the law will incur punishment under the rights of the child.
“The landmark bill on this sensitive issue came with the amendment to the Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929. Practically, it implies that the law has been passed in Pakistan after 85 years,” said Iqbal Ahmed Detho, a member of the provincial steering committee on monitoring child marriages, explained.
Detho – who has extensively worked on child rights in the country – said that when the authorities tried to implement the law in the past, a few bureaucratic hurdles arose to delay the process, including the registration of FIRs, court trials and acquittal ratio, among others.
Punishments for violation
Per the Section-4 of the law, whoever performs, conducts, bring about or, in any way, facilitates child marriages (of anyone under the age of 18), shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to up to three years, but shall not be less than two years, and guilty persons shall be liable to pay fines.
“Any person performing or solemnising marriage must ensure that the bride and bridegroom are aged 18 or above,” the law said. The bill also mentions that for the registration of a marriage, the union council or the committee concerned shall grant a license to one or more persons to operate as “Nikah’ registrars, however, every ward of the union council will have only one registrar.