KPK BANS DOWRY PRACTICE: AN END TO SOCIAL MENACE? – Aisha Ayub
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government has attempted to eliminate the ‘dowry virus’ from the society.
The social virus has spread out to all segments of society from the lower class to the well-known elite. Marrying the daughters to eligible bachelors requires families to give dowry in the form of property, money or jewellery to the groom’s family. This belief that they must accumulate lifetime savings to pay for their daughters’ or sisters’ dowries is inculcated in the mindsets of the youth. This is often asserted in our television advertisements enticing parents to buy an insurance policy for their daughter’s wedding or presenting it as a compulsion to abide by these archaic societal norms. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government has taken a laudable step by passing the law titled, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Dowry, Bridal Gift and Marriage Functions Restriction Act, 2017. The legislation has declared the practice of demanding dowry from the bride’s family illegal and has set a punishment for those violating this provision of law.
The intent behind the passage of this legislation was to protect women from harassment by their husbands or other family members to obtain dowry as a pre-condition of marriage. This practice is still prevalent in many parts of Pakistan. The practice of bride burning by the husband, in-laws and relatives is rampant in society. It is reported in many cases that if the dowry is not fully paid, women are tortured and then killed by their in-laws. These anachronistic cultural values are deep-rooted in the mindsets of the society creating demeaning attitudes towards women.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government has taken an important step to free women from this dangerous and evil custom. The bill was presented by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) lawmaker Rashida Riffat and was passed with a majority vote by the house.
The law has placed a complete ban on dowry articles given by parents or any other family members of any other person to the bride. The law states that if anyone from the bride-groom’s family or anyone on their behalf asks or forces the bride’s family to pay dowry in the form of cash or any specific items, they shall be punished with an imprisonment not exceeding two months and fine not less than three thousand rupees or both.
The aggregate value of the gift amount or articles given by the bride’s parents or any family member shall not exceed ten thousand rupees.
Moreover, the state has set a limit on total expenditures spent on marriage, Barat, Walima by either party for each ceremony shall not exceed seventy-five thousand rupees.
It is stated in the law that during the smaller functions such as Mehndi, Nikkah or engagement, the family shall not serve or allow anyone to serve anything except beverages to participants in the ceremony.
The menu for walima ceremony is limited to one rice dish, one gravy dish, one dry dish along with bread, salad and a sweet dish.
Furthermore, this law provides a procedure for complaint: a complaint can be made to the magistrate of the 1st class under whose jurisdiction the offence under this act by anyone who witnessed the ceremony within one month from the date of Nikah, and if the rukhsati takes place, from the date of such rukhsati.
Though it is an important step taken by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Parliament to address the menace of dowry practice. However, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government will face challenges and difficulties in implementing the new legislation. Though the pro-women laws existed such as The Dowry and Bridal (Restriction) Act, 1967 and The Marriage Functions (Prohibition of Ostentatious Displays and Wasteful Expenses) Ordinance, 2000 for the protection of women against dowry abuse. These laws place a restriction on marriage-related issues, including dowry, bridal gifts and marriage functions. under the law, the complete ban was imposed on the exhibition and display of the dowry presents. Moreover, no restriction on the quantity or value of dowry and bridal gifts was placed under the law. The law provided imprisonment for one year or fine up to Rupees five thousand or both for contravention of this provision of the law. Furthermore, the law placed a restriction on the value of dowry and bridal gifts as Rs5,000. The ceiling of expenditure was restricted to Rupees 2,500 as expenditure in marriage ceremonies. Additionally, the law fixed value of presents given to the bride and groom to Rs100. This law was devised for the protection of women, but it was rarely enforced. Moreover, the violators of the provisions of the law have been hardly penalised. The 1976 Act has become redundant due to the unrealistic ceilings placed by the state on expenses incurred on various wedding engagements. This act does not have a mechanism to determine the expenses of the wedding ceremonies in accordance with the socio-economic conditions, the income level of various classes and rate of inflation of the modern-day society.
Surprisingly there is no strict provision in the legislation passed by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the punishment of dowry demanding and paying by both the parties.
As a contrast to this provision, India’s Prohibition of Dowry Act 1961 provides severe punishment. The 1961 Acts states that if any person gives or takes or abets the giving or taking of dowry, the person shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than five years, and with the fine which shall not be less than Rs15,000 or the amount of the value of such dowry, whichever is more. However, the Indian legislation is rarely implemented due to the poor enforcement mechanism. The 1961 Act states that such presents given to the bride shall be entered in a list maintained in accordance with rules made under this law.
Although it is an affirmative measure to reduce the dowry practice in the society, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government is required to introduce strong enforcement mechanisms to enact the new legislation. Furthermore, a provision should be added in the new legislation which states that a mandatory list of gifts given in the form of cash or belongings shall be attached with the Nikahnama. This will help the authorities to regulate the expenses incurred on the wedding ceremonies effectively and to act against those parties who violate the provisions of the law. Also, the marriage expenses regulation committee should be set up at a ward level in each city. The object of the Committee shall be to act as watchdog ensuring that the parties incur expenses and marriage ceremonies in accordance with rules and guidelines provided in the law. The government should work with Non-Governmental Organisations to raise awareness for dowry killings. Advocacy campaigns should be started to train women teaching them about their rights and the protection provided under the law.
Aisha Ayub is a lawyer, activist and researcher based in Lahore. She holds LL.M from SOAS and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed herein are her own. The author takes sole and full responsibility for the accuracy of the content of this article and any claims arising from it.