ISLAMABAD, August 8, 2023: A study on women’s marriage rights revealed that 86 per cent Nikkah Registrars (NRs) in Lahore believe the bride is not competent enough to negotiate terms of her nikkahnama, 85 per cent believe that delegating the right to divorce to women in the nikkahnama will increase the divorce rate and 92 per cent believe the wife’s right to maintenance is subject to obedience to her husband.
The data was shared on Tuesday at the launch of “Diagnostic Study of Nikkahnamas in Punjab: A Review of Women’s Marriage Rights (Diagnostic Study).” The study was developed by the Centre for Human Rights (CFHR) in collaboration with Musawi and the National Commission for Human Rights.
The study assessed the status of women’s marriage rights to better understand gaps in the existing legislative and institutional framework that hinder women’s access to and implementation of marriage rights in Punjab. The study reviewed 1100 nikkahnama’s and interviewed 105 Nikkah Registrars in 14 Union Councils of 2 pilot districts in Punjab including Lahore and Pakpattan (2020-2021) besides analysing the related legislative and implementation frameworks.
Key issues identified by the study include gaps in enforcement and implementation of existing laws such as the Punjab Muslim Family Laws Amendment 2015, which prohibits crossing out of columns of the Nikkahnama or leaving them blank. Moreover, perceptions, beliefs, understanding and capacity of NRs on marriage rights and laws; limited oversight and accountability of NRs; inadequate understanding of validity of marriage and inconsistencies in nikkahnama form, format and clauses all impact access to key marriage rights, especially of women.
In Pakpattan, the study shows that the bride’s CNIC details were missing in 58 percent of the nikkahnammas and 23 percent did not record the age of the bride. Only 8 percent included the right to monthly allowance and 2 percent gave the wife the right to divorce.
Survey with nikkah registrar’s in Pakpattan revealed that 60 per cent consider consent given under duress as valid for the purposes of a marriage. Interestingly, 58 per cent nikkah registrars believe that Haq Mehr is not a mandatory requirement for a valid nikkah , 6 per cent believed that a child marriage is legally valid if the guardian gives permission and 40 per cent believe that Haq Mehr is not the sole property of the wife.
In addition, 78 percent believed women’s right to work is subject to husband’s permission and 61 percent believed Khula is not an independent right of women to seek divorce.
In Lahore, bride’s CNIC details were found missing in 15 percent of the nikkahnamas, 26 had no column for CNIC details, 9 did not record the age of the bride and 31 were different from the standard nikkahnama form. Only 9.7 percent of nikkahnamas included the right to monthly allowance and only 3 percent gave the wife the right to divorce.
Survey with registrars shows that 67 percent of them believed women’s right to work is subject to husband’s permission, 26 per cent perceived consent of guardian as more important than the bride’s free will, 83 per cent considered Haq Mehr to not be mandatory for a valid marriage, 55 percent believe that Haq Mehr is not the sole property of the wife, and 64 per cent NRs believe Khula is not an independent right of women to seek divorce.
Speaking on this occasion, Chairperson NCHR Rabiya Javeri Agha said the study will contribute in improving the knowledge and awareness of Nikkahnama clauses and women’s marriage rights across the country. “Columns that are usually crossed at the time of Nikkah are actually meant to safeguard and protect women’s right in a marriage. The study findings highlight the importance of effective implementation of the law that binds NRs to fill these columns.”
Tahera Hasan, Senior lawyer specializing in family law, said that the preservation of women’s marriage rights is hindered not by a dearth of legislation but by the cultural and social impediments that curtail the realization of these rights.
CEO, Musawi Fatima Yasmin Bokhari said that, “The Nikkahnama is the starting point in a conversation on women’s marriage rights. If properly understood and filled, it enables essential safeguards for women. Our review of Nikkahnamas revealed the majority of columns of the nikkahnama that were crossed out related to the rights of women, such as monthly maintenance and the delegated right to divorce.”
Chairperson NCHR Rabiya Javeri Agha said the study will contribute in improving the knowledge and awareness of Nikkahnama clauses and women’s marriage rights across the country. “Columns that are usually crossed at the time of Nikkah are actually meant to safeguard and protect women’s right in a marriage. The study findings highlight the importance of effective implementation of the law that binds NRs to fill these columns.”
“Key missing information in the Nikkahnama has implications for implementation of the law, for example, where the age of the bride or the CNIC is not written in the Nikkahnama, there is a serious concern that the marriage could have been a child marriage.” Said author of the study Sevim Saadat.
Justice Jawad Hassan of the Lahore High Court said that the Nikkahnama is a contract containing rights of the parties; the courts of pakistan have made this abundantly clear.”
“This study is quite important because it analyzes a document, the Nikkahnama, which is usually taken for granted yet it determines the fate of individuals, families and generations,” said Mehnaz Akbar Aziz، Shehla Raza, Provincial Minister of Women Development, Sindh said, “The Nikkahnama can prevent the illegal practice of child marriage. The child marriage law should be implemented in letter and spirit.”