Pakistan’s Parliament has finally passed the much-awaited landmark bill to regulate marriages of minority Hindus in the country. The final text approved by both Houses includes the ‘Shadi Parath’ — a document similar to ‘Nikahnama’ in Islam.

About the Shadi Parath
The ‘Shadi Parath’ will be required to be signed by a pandit and will be registered with the relevant government department. The document has eight columns starting with the date of marriage and followed by the name of the union council, tehsil, town and district.

Highlights of the Act
1. The bill would enable Hindu community to register their marriages.

2. Proof of marriage would offer greater protection to Hindu women, said activists.

3. The Nation newspaper reported that the law bill sets the minimum age for marriage for Hindus at 18. The minimum legal age for marriage for citizens of other religions is 18 for men and 16 for women.

4. Breaking the law regarding the minimum age would result in six months' jail and a Rs 5,000 fine.

5. Widows, in particular, were disadvantaged, she said, being unable to prove marriage to their husbands in order to gain government welfare benefits.

6. The new law legalises remarriage for a widow six months after her husband's death.

7. It also grants Hindus the right to divorce, with women having the additional right to do so on grounds of negligence, bigamy or having been married before 18.

Activists warn, however, that more needs to be done on the issue of abductions and forced conversions.

When there is suspicion of a forced marriage, it has to be investigated. Currently members of the Hindu community say that no one listens to them, not even the courts.

Why was law needed?
Hindus make up approximately 1.6 per cent of Pakistan's Muslim-majority 190 million population, but they have not had any legal mechanisms to register their marriages since independence in 1947.

Christians, the other main religious minority, have a British law dating back to 1870 regulating their marriages.