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Spouses of Secondary Citizens

By Rehman Azhar
July 7th 2012




Rights and benefits arising out of citizenship are 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 violated by the parallel set of laws framed to achieve a particular purpose. Such a contradiction exists in Pakistan, for example, where the Citizenship Act of 1951 violates the basics of the Constitution. Its section 10 provides for the process married women can acquire citizenship in Pakistan. A married Pakistani man can earn citizenship for his spouse but a woman cannot do the same. She is not entitled to the right of citizenship for her spouse even by fulfilling all the other requirements, if her spouse is a foreigner.

The Constitution of Pakistan, the supreme law of the land, provides for non-discriminations on the basis of sex. Article 25(1) states that all citizens are equal before law and entitled to equal protection of law. Its Section 2 prohibits any gender discrimination and prescribes that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone.

The Citizenship Act should not withstand this paradox however it still exists. There had been efforts in Pakistani Parliament to change it but they all ended in a pigeonhole. 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 out in section 10 of this Act, for a foreign 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 the Interior opposed both bills in the house. They are now pending in Parliament either because committees have not taken any action or members did not show 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 reported that citizenship was denied to a Pakistani woman’s foreign husband. The court asked the Ministry of Law, the Ministry of the Interior and the Attorney General for an explanation on the matter. The ministry responded with the approval of the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights and gave the following bizarre concerns for upholding the provision such 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 said that foreign women marrying Pakistani men cannot be equated to foreign men marrying Pakistani women in our society and such legislation will also 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. Although the Federal Shariat Court is an apex level court for Islamic laws in Pakistan, still the aforesaid act will remain the same until Parliament/President approves changes to it.


Citizenship of any country is a sacred and earnest commitment of allegiance towards the constitution and laws of the State. It cannot be ensured if laws relating to citizenship are not appropriately designed or are discriminatory. This dichotomy of laws and discrimination do not hold valid ground as it violates the Constitution of Pakistan and the country’s international commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations against Women (CEDAW). One can only hope that Parliamentarians and the Commission on Status of Women (a body formed to recommend laws related to women) with its new powers will take note of this to ensure that women in Pakistan are guaranteed their legal rights.

About the Author:

Azhar is a freelance journalist based in New York, United States currently pursuing a Masters Degree programme in International Law and Justice at Fordham University.

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