A green passport isn’t a good enough wedding gift
Rights and benefits arising out of citizenship is an essential concept to every legal framework. It is the duty of the state to treat all its citizens equally and guarantee the provision of rights they are entitled to. These duties of the state are also referred to as fundamental rights. However, sometimes these fundamental rights are negated by the parallel set of laws framed to achieve a particular purpose. A similar contradiction exists in Pakistan where Citizenship Act of 1951 negates the basics of the constitution. Its section 10 provides for the process married women can acquire citizenship in Pakistan but a married woman cannot earn citizenship for her spouse even by fulfilling all the other requirements, if her spouse is a foreigner.
Constitution of Pakistan, the supreme law of the land, provides against such discriminations based on sex. Article 25(1) states that all citizens are equal before law and entitled to equal protection of law. Its section 2 denies the basis of any gender discrimination more vehemently and prescribes that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone.
The act is a clear violation of these sections of the constitution that guarantee equality before the law. The act is a clear case of gender-based discrimination; however, it still exists. There had been efforts in the Pakistani parliament to change it but these efforts amounted to naught and were thwarted by multifarious factors. Dr Attiya Inayatullah, a PML(Q) member, introduced a private member bill to amend the Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951 on June 10, 2008. It sought to amend the section by adding that a man who is married to a Pakistani woman shall be eligible to apply for registration as a citizen of Pakistan after fulfilling the conditions as laid down in section 10 of this Act, for a woman. A private member bill was also tabled by the ANP member National Assembly Bushra Gohar on February 17, 2010 that sought to amend the section to provide the married women right of citizenship for their spouses. The ministry of interior opposed both bills in the house. They are now pending in the parliament because either because of the inaction of the committees or because of the disinterest and apathy of the members as they have not taken any further interest in such legislation.
In 2006, Federal Shariat Court in its original jurisdiction took suo motu notice using its powers under Article 203-D after a news item that citizenship was denied to a Pakistani woman’s foreign husband. The court asked the ministry of law, the ministry of interior and the Attorney General for an explanation on the matter. The ministry responded with the approval of Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights and showed bizarre concerns in case the provision is changed. It said that Afghan refugees and Biharis will misuse it and after divorcing Pakistani women a foreign man will be able to roam around in Pakistan freely. It also said that such a provision would provide ingress to Indian male citizens into Pakistan.
However, the court rejected these concerns and decided on December 19, 2007 that the Act is discriminatory against women and asked the President of Pakistan to amend the Pakistan Citizenship Act within six months so that a Pakistani female’s non-Pakistani husband could also get Pakistani citizenship, just like a foreign woman married to a Pakistani man.
Citizenship of any country is a sacred and earnest commitment of allegiance towards the constitution and laws of state. It cannot be ensured if laws relating to citizenship are not appropriately designed or discriminatory. This dichotomy of laws and discrimination do not hold valid ground. One can only hope that the parliamentarians and Commission on Status of Women with its new powers will take note of this to ensure that women in Pakistan are guaranteed their legal rights.