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Pakistan National Assembly has passed the Hindu Marriage Bill and has set the minimum age for marriage at 18 Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

After several decades of delay and inaction, small Hindu minorities in Pakistan have finally won the rights to legally register their marriage in the country after the lower house of parliament gave a nod to a landmark bill on Monday (26 September).

The Hindu Marriage Bill seeks to address crucial issues, including matters related to the legal framework for Pakistani Hindu community's marriage, divorce and forced conversion.

The proposal for this bill from a key parliamentary panel was submitted in February. The Senate has to now approve the bill to make it a law, which according to reports, is expected to happen without any major delay.

Under the new bill, the minimum age for marriage for Hindus is set at 18, while for citizens of other religions it is 18 for men and 16 for women. Anyone breaching the law would face a jail term of six months and a fine of Pakistan rupee 5,000 ($47, £37).

Activists in Islamabad have long fought for Hindu women's rights claiming the minorities have been disproportionately targeted as their marriages were never officially recognised in the country and hence not provable in court. There were reports of some Hindu women being kidnapped and raped because of the law not covering their rights.

Zohra Yusuf, head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan told Reuters: "Once marriages are registered, at least they have certain rights that are ensured."

The bill is said to benefit widows too, who, in particular, were reportedly more disadvantaged as they were unable to prove their marriage in the first place to take advantage of the government's welfare programmes. But the new law has a provision to legalise remarriage for widows six months after the death of their husbands.

It also allows Hindus the right to divorce, with women getting the extra right to do so on the grounds of negligence, bigamy or having been marriage before the new legal age of 18.

Hindus account to 1.6% of Pakistan's population of 190 million but have never been privileged to register their marriages since it gained independence from Britain in 1947. On the other hand, Christians, who are also main religious minority in the Muslim-dominated country, have a British law in place regulating their marriage since 1870.