October 14th, 2020
By Rehan Piracha
A petitioner has approached the Lahore High Court for strict enforcement of the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976 as the Federal Cabinet is set to ratify amendments in the 44-year-old antiquated law which would raise limits of dowry and bridal gifts to four Tolas of gold from Rs 5,000.
According to a summary by the Religious Affairs Ministry submitted to the Federal Cabinet Committee on Legislative Cases, the ministry says the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976 restricts the values of Dowry, Bridal Gifts and presents given to brides in Pakistan.
The ministry proposed amendments in various sections of the antiquated law due to changes in the socio-cultural environment, rising inflation, and devaluation of the currency. The new law has been titled Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) (Amendment) Bill 2020 up to extent of the Islamabad Capital Territory as after the 18th Amendment, the subject of marriage has been devolved to the provinces.
The bill will impose a ban on-demand and display of dowry items and bridal gifts. The ministry says the new law will substitute the values of money, mentioned in the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976, with values of gold to make it suitable for all times.
Dowry and bridal gifts limited to four Tolas of gold
The new dowry bill will increase the aggregate value of the dowry and bridal gifts from Rs 5,000 to four Tolas of gold which approximately equals to Rs 470,000 as per the current market price of Rs 117,502 of 24 Karat gold.
Ban on demand of dowry
The bill will place a prohibition on demand of dowry by a bridegroom and his parents through the addition of sub-section 3 in section 3 of the previous Act. Previously, there was no ban on the demand for dowry. Similarly, the bill will also place a ban on the display of bridal gifts which was allowed under the old law.
Rs 1000 limit for presents from wedding guests
The draft bill will prohibit a wedding guest from making any present exceeding the value of Rs.1,000 through an amendment of section 4 in the previous Act. The previous limit was Rs 100 under the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976.
Bar on marriage expenses above 4 Tolas gold
The new dowry law will increase the limit to four Tolas gold from Rs 2,500 for the total expenditure on a marriage, excluding the value of dowry, bridal gifts, and presents, through an amendment in section 6. The marriage expenses include Mehndi, Baarat, and Valima’s functions.
Dowry items to be listed in Nikahnama
To provide for the listing of dowry items and bridal gifts in the Nikahnama, the draft law proposes the insertion of section 6A in the Act. At the time of Nikah, the parents of each party to a marriage shall prepare and enter in the appropriate column of the Nikahnama the complete list of dowry items and bridal gifts, along with their values, according to the details of the summary.
In its summary, the Federal Religious Affairs Ministry says all the provincial Governments have endorsed the bill and have supported the conversion of money into gold. The governments of Azad Jammu Kashmir, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have endorsed the bill in totality, the ministry says.
Suggestions from Punjab and Sindh
The government of Punjab had suggested that the limit of dowry items and marriage expenses should be placed at two Tolas of gold. However, the ministry terms the suggestion as too low and not practical due to inflation. The Sindh government had suggested that the law should discourage demand and display of dowry. Besides, the Sindh government had expressed concern that participants of marriage may lodge fabricated complaints to settle personal scores. Responding to Sindh’s suggestions, the ministry says the new law incorporates a ban on-demand and display of dowry while the existing procedure for registration of complaints under the existing law provides sufficient safeguards against fake complaints.
Who can lodge a complaint?
Under Section 8A of the bill, any participant of marriage function, being satisfied with violation of the Act, may lodge a complaint to the concerned Deputy Commissioner but with detailed evidence.
‘Dowry should have been banned altogether’
According to Alia Malik, an associate at Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, the federal government should have banned dowry altogether because setting an upper limit in a way promotes the exploitative culture whereby parents of a bride are forced to spend often beyond their means in a bid to please family members of the bridegroom. Speaking from her years of experience in family law cases, Malik says she did not come across a single case filed under the antiquated Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976.
Malik is of the opinion that like all laws dealing with the betterment of marginalized sections of society, the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976 was never seriously implemented. The successive governments even did not try to raise awareness about the law, she adds. The ban on-demand and display will eventually open the door to corruption, she says.
Plea for enforcing existing dowry law
In a related development, advocate Nadeem Sarwar has petitioned the Lahore High Court that the number of unmarried women was increasing because of demands of dowry by the parents of grooms.
Those who did not belong to affluent families were facing agony as their daughters were not getting married owing to the non-implementation of the law, he said in his petition. He said the law had been in the field since 1976 but no concrete measure had been taken to enforce it.
Section 3 of the Act places restrictions on the value of dowry and bridal gifts at Rs5,000 and the expenditure on marriage ceremonies at Rs2,500. Furthermore, the law fixes the maximum value of presents given to the bride and bridegroom at only Rs100. The law also makes it binding to furnish a list of dowry, bridal gifts and presents, and the details of expenditure incurred on the ceremony. The penalty for violation of any provision of the Act is imprisonment of up to six months, fine of up to Rs10,000 or both.
The family courts are empowered to take cognizance of an offense under the Act after a written complaint authorized by a deputy commissioner within nine months from the date of Nikah or Rukhsati.
The petitioner contended that under section 9 of the Act, the gifts and dowry given in violation of the law should be seized by the federal government and utilized for the marriage of poor girls. This clause had not been implemented, he added. It was the duty of the government to take steps for enforcement of the law, he stated.
Section 4 of the Act also bars the president, prime minister, federal ministers, chief ministers, advisers, governors, and members of the national and provincial assemblies and the Senate from receiving more than Rs100 as a marriage gift, the petitioner said.
Nadeem Sarwar requested the court to issue directives to the chief secretary to make it mandatory to append a list of dowry articles with the Nikah Nama and confiscate the gifts of excessive value for their utilization in the marriage of poor girls.