Islamabad: Pakistan's Hindu Marriage Act 2017, which came into effect on March 19, has raised hope that it will help prevent incidents of kidnapping of Hindu minority women and their conversion to other faiths for bigamous, forced marriages.
The new law, passed by Pakistan's Parliament, allows Hindus to register their marriages for first time since 1947.
The landmark law, which was unanimously adopted by the National Assembly, aims at regulating marriages of minority Hindus in the country.
The law was passed after a lengthy process of enactment. The National Assembly had passed the bill in September last year but had to pass it again as its version of the bill was changed by the Senate, when it adopted the law in February.
The historic Hindu Marriage Act aims to protect families - and the women and children of the Hindu community particularly, by recognizing their marriages in law.
After the passing of the law, millions of women from Pakistan's Hindu minority community now have the right to a certificate establishing their marital status under the Hindu Marriage Act 2017 that was signed into law on March 19.
"We Hindu girls and married women have lived in the shadow of constant fear ... of being kidnapped, forced to abandon our faith and convert and re-married forcibly to someone not from our faith," said Gobia, a graduate in English literature from a government college in the town of Dharaki in southern Pakistan.
She hopes the new marriage law will help prevent such incidents of kidnapping of Hindu minority women and their forced conversion to other faiths for bigamous, forced marriages.
"With our marriages now legally registered with government authority ... no one could be able to stop us and our husbands from proving our marital status," Gobia was quoted as saying by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"More importantly, bigamy has now been termed an unlawful and punishable crime in the new law - that is a big relief."
Since partition from India in 1947, and the creation of Pakistan as a separate state for Muslims, marriages of the Hindu minority of 30 million were not officially recognized, leaving Hindu women without protection under the law.
"Our married daughters and sisters have been kidnapped by local non-Hindu influentials and forced to convert to Islam," said lawyer Arjun Das, chairman of Pakistan Council of Meghwar, a Hindu community, who campaigned for the marriage law.
The historic Hindu Marriage Act aims to protect families - and the women and children of the Hindu community particularly, by recognizing their marriages in law, said Zahid Hamid, Federal Law and Justice Minister.
"Marriage registrars will be appointed by the government in different parts of the country as provided in the law," he said.
"The registrars will be authorized to register Hindu marriages under the act. Besides maintaining Hindu marriage records, they will also be authorized to issue legal marriage certificates," he added.
The minister said particular efforts had been made to address the issue of bigamy in Pakistan.
Representatives of the Pakistan Hindu Council and Pakistan Council of Meghwar have long struggled for a law to protect women from conversions to other faiths and forced marriages.
But Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, patron-in-chief of Pakistan Hindu Council, said the new law needed strong political will to ensure its implementation and campaigns in schools and the media to raise awareness of the legislation.