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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 17:04 GMT
Women's bill in Pakistan assembly
Women's protest outside national assembly in Islamabad
Pakistani women demanding greater rights
Pakistan's national assembly has begun work on a bill to safeguard women's rights to property and inheritance.

The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill seeks to ban various customs that deny women the right to marry or subject them to forced marriages.

Last November the assembly overcame bitter opposition from Islamic parties to amend the country's controversial rape laws.

The new bill is a key part of plans to empower women, the government says.

The position of women in Pakistan has come under intense international scrutiny, partly because of a number of high-profile rape cases.


"The bill seeks to correct the wrongs committed against women," the head of the ruling PMLQ party, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, said while tabling the bill.

"I hope that sections of the opposition that supported us on women's issues earlier would back this bill as well."

Last November the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto put aside its differences with the government to support the changes in the rape laws.

The new bill criminalises customs such as vanni and swara, in which young girls are given away in marriage to settle murder feuds.

It prescribes a maximum of three years' imprisonment for offenders in these cases.

In addition, the bill prescribes up to seven years in jail for those who deprive a woman of her right to property.

It further seeks to punish the practice of marrying women to the Koran with up to three years in jail.

Koran marriages are aimed at preventing a woman from contracting a normal marriage and bearing children who could then claim her share in ancestral property.

The bill proposes that husbands who bring charges of infidelity against their wives under Islamic law but fail in their cases could face charges of slander.

In such cases, the wife would be given the power to initiate divorce proceedings.

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