Yesterday, a man was surprisingly sentenced by a judicial magistrate to three months in jail and a fine of Rs5000 for a not-so-surprising crime- he had conducted a second marriage without obtaining the permission of his first wife. In a month where we have been witness to several horrifying cases of domestic abuse and assault, it is nice to see some accountability taken against men who exploit marriage laws- even if the respite is small.

As much as men may protest against it, second marriage, without the permission of the first wife, is illegal in Pakistan’s family laws. According to section 6 of the Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961, consent of the first wife is required before a man can obtain a second nikkah. The purpose of this section is in line with the objectives of having family laws in the first place- which are to protect the institution of the family and ensure children of our nation grow up in stable and healthy homes. A home where a man weds another against the wishes of his first wife is unlikely to provide a safe and loving environment for the family, and will aid in exploitation and domestic abuse of women.

Unfortunately, despite being outlawed, second marriages without the consent or knowledge of the first wife, are a shockingly common phenomenon. It reflects a lack of trust in the system that many women, whose husbands have married again without their consent, do not report their cases to the courts- as is the case in instances of domestic abuse, husbands not giving women their due economic remuneration and childcare support. More convictions in family courts against unlawful activities by husbands, even if the sentences are minimal, will hopefully deter further exploitation and discrimination against women in family matters. It will also encourage implementation of several other neglected family law provisions, such as dowry restriction, to occur.