Pakistan’s Sindh Hindu Marriage Act provides a ray of hope for the protection of Hindu women and girls
Pakistan is home to the world’s fourth largest Hindu population, with Hinduism constituting the second largest religion in Pakistan after Islam.
Article 36 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 enshrines the policy of protection of minorities. However, there was no law regulating the terms and procedures for contracting and dissolving Hindu marriages, and Hindu marriages were therefore often difficult to prove. This particularly affected Hindu women and children negatively. If the husband wanted to dissolve the marriage, the wife and children risked being left without financial support, as the marriage could not be proven. Likewise, if the husband passed away, the wife and children risked being unable to claim their inheritance for the same reason. These vulnerable situations also left Hindu women and children at risk of child and forced marriage and forced conversion.
NCA Pakistan, with the support of Norad, has been implementing the “Joint Social Action for Equal Rights and Opportunities for Minorities of Faith and Belief in Pakistan” project since 2016. The project focuses on the protection and equal citizenship rights of religious minorities in Pakistan. With the support and facilitation of NCA, local partners played an important role in lobbying and advocacy efforts along with other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) which resulted in the passage of Hindu Marriage Act.
NCA in Pakistan had been supporting the advocacy efforts of its partners for legislation on Hindu marriage in Sindh since 2014, as advocacy for human rights is a long-term process that requires persistent efforts to achieve results. The coordinated efforts of CSOs, the media and parliamentarians were crucial in ensuring the passage of the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act. This included reviewing the draft of the bill taking action to address gaps such as having a group of CSO representatives present their recommendations for improvements to the bill to the Provincial Minister for Minority Affairs; having legal experts prepare concrete recommendations for the Sindh Assembly; conducting a series of lobbying meetings with Muslim, Christian, and Hindu parliamentarians to mobilise them to ensure the improvements were incorporated into the draft bill. Partners also engaged print and electronic media to highlight issues in the provincial draft and create awareness for the improvements required.
As a result of the immense pressure from CSOs including NCA’s partners, the draft Hindu Marriage Bill was revised with some of the improvements suggested by civil society, and the bill was passed and amended by the Sindh Assembly in 2018. To create awareness among the population about this new legislation, NCA’s partner translated the approved Act into the local language (Sindhi) and circulated it at the village level through Community Peace Groups. After the passage of this Act, a research study was published on issues related to minorities of faith and belief that documents the positive impacts of the Sindh Hindu Marriage Act through key informant interviews, focus group discussions and consultative meetings. The Act now gives right of separation to both husband and wife in addition to ensuring financial security of the wife and children. Other legal benefits include registering births, deaths and Family Registration Certificate, which is the proof of family composition. Ensuring proper implementation of the legislation requires continuous follow up, and NCA’s partners are contributing to this by conducting advocacy through various media channels and attending lobbying meetings with government authorities and parliamentarians at the provincial and federal level.