Pakistan's human rights commission yesterday hailed a landmark Supreme Court ruling that a Muslim woman who married for love had been entitled to choose her husband without her parents' consent.
The woman's father has been fighting a legal battle to invalidate the 1996 marriage which flaunted tradition in Pakistan, where it's rare for people to marry without their parents' permission.
On Friday, the court rejected the final appeal by the father, Hafiz Abdul Waheed, ruling that his daughter Saima Waheed had been at liberty to wed whom she wanted.
"The consent of the wali [guardian] is not required and an adult and sane Muslim female can enter into a valid nikah [marriage contract] of her own free will," the three judges said in a 26-page ruling.
Hundreds of women are killed or maimed each year by close relatives if they take such a step, seen as betraying the family's honor -- particularly in conservative rural areas of this Islamic country.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan -- which had helped protect and give legal support to Saima Waheed after she married -- praised the judgment.
"It is a very good ruling and we welcome it," commission official Zaman Khan said by telephone from the eastern city of Lahore.
Waheed stunned her family in 1996 when she married Arshad Ahmed, an English-language teacher who was hired by Waheed's father to tutor his two young sons.
Waheed and Ahmed soon became friends, but when Ahmed asked Waheed's father for his daughter's hand in marriage, he was rejected.
They married secretly.
A man with considerable standing in Pakistani society, Waheed's father quickly rallied support from religious parties, who argued that "love marriages" were against Islam.
Ahmed spent four months in jail, and Waheed stayed in a women's shelter but a court ruled during 1997 that their marriage was legal. The couple later moved to Norway.
Khan also called Friday for more government action to stop "honor killings."
"Hundreds of women are killed every year in Pakistan just because they choose a husband of their choice," he said. "The practice will only end when the government ensures exemplary punishment to all those indulging in these heinous crimes."
Recently, President Pervez Musharraf ordered an inquiry into a suspected "honor killing.".
The woman, Afshin Musarrat, 23, was allegedly strangled last month after she fled from an arranged marriage to live with the man she loved. Her grandfather and several other men are suspected in the killing. Her father has been arrested.
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