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No mention of dowry in new marriage-related law.

Byline: Waseem Ahmad Shah

The provincial assembly passed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious Displays and Wasteful Expenses) Bill, 2018, on Feb 21 in a much diluted form as the lawmakers have removed the provisions related to 'dowry', which were available in the initial bill. In its present form, this law only aims at regulating marriage functions and bridal gifts.

With the passage of this Bill, which now awaits assent of the KP governor, the existing federal law on the subject, Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious Displays and Wasteful Expenses) Ordinance, 2000 (Ordinance No. II of 2000), would become redundant to the extent of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Following the passage of the Constitution (Eighteenth Amendment) Act, 2010, the matters pertaining to 'marriage, and divorce, infants and minors adoption' are provincial subjects. Previously, these matters were in the Concurrent Legislative List to the Constitution and a federal law on these subjects would prevail over a provincial law to the extent of anything in conflict in the two laws.

The present Bill was tabled in the KP Assembly in April 2017. The title of the original Bill was 'The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Dowry, Bridal Gift and Marriage Functions Restriction Act, 2016.' Under section 3 of the original bill, it was proposed to place ban on dowry articles either given by parents or any other family member or any other person to the bride.

Furthermore, that bill provided restrictions on bridal gifts and presents providing that the aggregate value of the gift amount or articles given to the bride by her parents shall not exceed Rs10,000. The said bill was referred to a select committee of the assembly, which put forward different amendments in it and in its present form it has now been passed by the assembly. Now there is no mention of 'dowry' in the law. Furthermore, the ceiling of Rs10,000 for bridal gifts has now been enhanced to Rs100,000.

The Bill provides that in different ceremonies related to a marriage, including barat, walima and rukhsati, a prescribed menu should be served to guests. The menu is defined as 'one rice dish, one gravy/salan dish, one dry dish, nan/roti, salad and sweet dish.' Similarly, in other ceremonies, including engagement, mehndi or nikkah, a person or family shall only serve beverages.

Whosoever contravenes these provisions shall be punishable to fine up to Rs200,000 or imprisonment for a term up to three months, or both.

This proposed law also places ban on other marriage related activities, including decorating any house or building, street, road or other places, and exploding or allowing anyone to explode crackers or other explosive device and firing by firearms. Several of these restrictions are already available in the Ordinance of 2000.

Apart from the Ordinance of 2000, the major federal law dealing with dowry and bridal gift is the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976. This over four-decade old law has rarely been implemented in the country and some of the provisions are outdated as the values of different permissible items are very nominal. This law now needs various amendments keeping in view the present ground realities especially the ceiling of money fixed for the value of dowry.

Prior to the Act of 1976 the law in the field was West Pakistan Dowry (Prohibition of Display) Act, 1967. That law had imposed ban on the display and exhibition of dowry and presents. The said law placed no restriction on the quantity or value of dowry and bridal gifts. That law was repealed through the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976. The law places restriction on the value of dowry and bridal act as Rs5,000. It also fixes ceiling of Rs2,500 as expenditure in marriage ceremonies. Furthermore, the law fixes value of presents given to bride and bridegroom as only Rs100.

The law has also made it binding to furnish a list of dowry items, bridal gifts, presents and the details of expenditure incurred on marriage ceremonies. The penalty provided for contravention of any provision of the act is imprisonment up to six months or fine up to Rs10,000 or both.

The law has empowered only the family courts to try offences under it.

The Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan had also examined the law on different occasions. In 1992, the commission had put forward different recommendations, including enhancing the limit of dowry/bridal gifts from Rs5,000 to Rs50,000. It also recommended enhancing marriage expenses from Rs2,500 to Rs25,000.

The secretariat of the commission also prepared a draft law on the subject in 2003, which proposed that the maximum limit of marriage expenses may be enhanced from Rs2,500, as given in the present law, to Rs50,000. It was added that maximum value of dowry given by parents/guardian may be enhanced from Rs5,000 to Rs50,000. The draft provided that the penalty of fine be enhanced from Rs10,000 to Rs20,000, and imprisonment be reduced from six months to three months.

During the military government of General Pervez Musharraf, Ordinance No. II of 2000 was promulgated on Jan 13, 2000. That ordinance was applicable throughout Pakistan. Sections 4 and 5 of the said Ordinance provide for serving of hot and/or cold soft drinks to guests during marriage ceremonies and place restrictions on serving of meals.

In Punjab, the Punjab Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious Displays and Wasteful Expenses) Act, 2003, was enacted on Feb 14, 2003. That law permitted serving of 'one dish' during marriages.

Both these laws, the Ordinance and the Punjab Law, were challenged before the Supreme Court. The apex court had on Nov 5, 2004, dismissed the petitions challenging the ordinance and had declared it a valid law. However, the bench had struck down the Punjab law, observing that it was in conflict with the federal ordinance.

The Punjab province subsequently enacted the Punjab Marriage Functions Act 2016. This law defines 'one dish' as 'one salan, one rice dish, one salad, hot and cold drinks, roti, nan and one sweet dish'. The Punjab law also provides for constitution of one or more committees for enforcement of the law.

A major flaw in the Bill passed by the KP Assembly is that the government has not assigned responsibility of enforcement of the law to any government official or department. It provides that an offence under this law will be tried by a magistrate summarily and a complaint shall be made in writing to the magistrate by anyone who had witnessed the ceremony.

Experts believe that unless the government assign responsibility to a designated official or elected representatives of local councils, it would be difficult to implement the law. They believe that apart from this law, the provincial government should also make amendments in the 1976 law placing restriction on dowry.
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Publication:Dawn (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Feb 26, 2018
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