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Marriage Laws in Pakistan: Why Are More Women in Karachi Seeking Divorce?

Domestic violence, forbidding visit to parents, working & spouses' second marriages prompt women to resort to Khula.

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Twenty-eight years old Aqeela Naz lives with her parents in a two-room congested flat in a small compound in the Korangi area of Pakistan's port city of Karachi.

With a disappointed face, Naz recalls her wedding days when she was pleased and excited to start her new chapter of life in 2021.

"My parents were also happy when I got married to Abul Wahab, and he promised my parents that he would take care of me, fulfill my basic needs and never disappoint me," she said.

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After two months, Wahab went to Lahore from Karachi for job purposes. Initially, he would keep in touch with her over phone, but after a few days, he started ignoring Naz and stopped responding altogether. He even stopped sending money to her.

After a few days, she inquired through their relatives in Lahore, and they found that he got married to another girl.

"When the members of my family got to know about his second marriage and told him that you did wrong, he started threatening me continuously," she added.

Fed up with his threats and such unprecedented and reckless behavior, she finally filed a Khul in the family court.

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Why Are More Women in Pakistan Resorting to Khula

'Khul', also called Khula is a procedure through which a woman can give divorce to her husband in Islam by returning the dower or something else that she had received from her husband or without producing anything, as agreed by the spouses or Qadi's decree depending on the circumstances.

According to official data in the Sindh province, a total of 44,695 Khula cases were instituted in the three years, and 50,262 were disposed of in family courts. The number of Instituted cases of Khula in 2020 were 11,639, and 14,448 disposal cases. In one year, the instituted cases rose to 16,287 whereas disposal numbers became 19,832.

In 2021, the percentage of institution cases increased by 28% whereas in 2022, it rose by 2% and jumped 30% from 2020 to 2022 over three years in the Sindh province.

Currently, the rate of Khula and divorce in Pakistan has catapulted to a sad state. Only in City Court Karachi, thousands of Khula and divorce cases were filed this year compared to the past and this problem is eroding the roots of our family system.
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Speaking to The Quint, an advocate of High Court Muqadar Ali says, according to Islamic law, Khula gives the right to a woman wanting to take divorce or separate from her husband due to any kind of issue or conflict, to file suit (for the desolation of marriage) before the court at any time.

"In pre-trial, the judges always try to strike a compromise between the husband and wife and also guide both to take time. If the wife agrees to compromise, then Khula's suit can be discarded," Ali said.

Women file Khula due to various reasons. Some of them being domestic violence by the husband, not permitting the wife to visit her parents or do a job, and sometimes, second marriage of the husband.

"Every day in family courts, cases of Khula is increasing, and due to the dissolution of marriage, the said woman's parents as well as the children of the divorced couple (if any) suffer a lot mentally because they feel that the society will taunt their daughter for not keeping up with in-laws and the neighborhood will also gossip about their life," Ali added.

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Social Stigma Refrains Most Women To Terminate Abusive Marriages

36-year-old Shazia Khalil, mother of two, living in North Karachi, dissolved her marriage in July 2022 through Khula. She and her husband had a love marriage; they were colleagues and later, became good friends and tied the knot, thereafter.

"The initial years of our marriage were good, but after some time, my husband got addicted to drugs, and he used to come home drunk and beat me or physically assault my children. That traumatised me. I did not tell my family for fear of being stigmatised. Still, that kind of behavior negatively impacted my children and so, I finally decided to withdraw from this toxic relationship, " she said.

Many such women continue to endure their husbands' violence for fear of societal discord. Most women in rural areas do not want to end their marriage despite this violence and remain trapped in abusive marriages life-long.
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Parental Divorce Is Often a Blow to Child Psychology

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Lakesh Kumar says that before divorce or Khula, the quarrel between the couple and the use of abusive language generate mental health issues in children, some of whom even suffer from depression. In such cases, separation between parents proves beneficial for the child's upbringing. However, custody issues in which the child either goes to the mother or the father, can adversely affect his/her growth and performance, academic and otherwise.

"Children feel ashamed of themselves and wonder why it only happened between their parents and not others'. Even a child is not mentally ready to accept it. If his mother remarries, he faces difficulty accepting to replace his father with someone else," Kumar added.

Children are susceptible to extreme emotions and therefore, after this change, they get angry at the slightest thing, and feel misunderstood and unloved. They grow up believing that their parents were a self-centered bunch who dismissed their children's feelings and hence, turn rebellious.

Expressing his fear, Dr Kumar said that if separation and divorce rises in such a proportion, people's tendency to marry will also reduce.

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Laws Enable Pakistani Women To Call Off Marriages

A Non-Government Organisation (NGO) called "The Legal Aid Society(LAS) Pakistan" works on Women's right to legal property. They provide legal guidance and help women suffering from toxic relationships who want to take Khula.

Miss Hunza Moin, Project Manager at The Legal Aid Society Pakistan told The Quint that many women who came here for support of legal aid were unaware of the laws to protect them from violence.

"In the digital era, women are also learning online skills, working and earning through online platforms, so that they do not have to endure further mistreatment. They become finically independent too, which helps them lead a hassle-free live post-separation," she said.

She also added that, "No woman willingly takes her Khula, and only arrives at such a stage when her life and that of her kids come under threat. More so, our society makes it difficult for women to formalise her divorce as it goes against cultural norms."

Note: The names of the couples mentioned have been changed to protect their privacy.

(Rana Malhi is a Karachi-based multimedia journalist. He tweets at @RanaMalhiRM. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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