Sri Lanka debates its antiquated Muslim family laws, Girls of any age can wake up married, without having given their consent
Posted on June 15th, 2017

Doom and groom  Courtesy The Economist

TO AVOID being married at 17 to a stranger, the Muslim schoolgirl from Sri Lanka’s north-west tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of her mother’s diabetes pills. While she was recovering in hospital, her parents went ahead and registered the marriage. The union took place under the version of Sri Lanka’s family law that applies only to Muslims. It does not require the bride’s consent and does not specify a minimum age for marriage. Instead, it merely stipulates that children under 12 can only be married with the approval of a quazi, or Muslim family judge. The penal code, helpfully, exempts Muslims from prosecution for statutory rape providing the victim is married to the perpetrator and is 12 or older.

Unions of other Sri Lankans fall under the General Marriage Registration Ordinance, which sets the minimum age at 18. Muslim marriages and divorces, and interfaith ones involving a Muslim, are governed by the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, which also permits a man to commit polygamy without the acquiescence or knowledge of other wives he may have.  Husbands can get quick divorces without having to offer any explanation. By contrast, a wife endures a long process that requires her to produce witnesses and attend hearings.

The law is administered through courts set up in 1951 “for the Islamic people to conduct their judicial activities according to their customs”. Representation by lawyers is not permitted. Women are barred from being quazis. And quazis routinely order women to keep quiet during proceedings.

Activists have recently begun a vigorous campaign to change the law. They believe that Muslim girls are often forced to leave school to marry. But they admit that gathering data is difficult. Parents or guardians often lie about the age of children they are giving in marriage, says Hasanah Cegu Isadeen, one of the authors of a report on the negative consequences for women of Muslim personal law. Some marriages are not even registered.

The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, a union of (male) Islamic scholars, maintains that child marriages are rare. But Ms Cegu Isadeen found that in 22% of marriages registered in 2015 in Kattankudy, a Muslim town in eastern Sri Lanka, the woman was 17 or younger. The previous year, it was 14%.

Some conservative Muslims say the Koran permits child marriage. They insist that Muslims must continue to be exempt from secular family law. A quazi in Colombo told researchers that girls had to be married between 15 and 17 because their “value” decreased as they got older. Some present child marriage as a way to make teenage pregnancy less of a problem.

Opponents of child marriage are divided on how to change all this. One camp wants the government to set 18 as the minimum age of marriage for all Sri Lankans. Another feels that, for reform to be effective, the Muslim community must embrace it. That would mean winning over conservative theologians.

A government committee appointed in 2009 to propose changes to Muslim personal law is trying to do just that. But its chairman, a former supreme-court judge, is struggling to reconcile divergent positions. Proposals that do not enjoy broad consensus will never be implemented, he says.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Doom and groom”

8 Responses to “Sri Lanka debates its antiquated Muslim family laws, Girls of any age can wake up married, without having given their consent”

  1. Leela Says:

    Perhaps our readers like to hear Dr. Mareena Thaha Reffai’s opinion on this.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    We need to protect ALL Sri Lankan women EQUALLY, irrespective of Community, rejecting these disruptive impractical centrifugal ideas of anarchic diversity.

    Eliminate all COMMUNAL laws, and require ALL citizens to live under ONE SYSTEM OF LAW applicable to all citizens EQUALLY!

    Now, Extremist Muslims are DEMANDING the imposition of Sharia Law in the UK!

    The response to that OUTRAGEOUS DEMAND will not be long in coming, as the vast najority of Britons say enough-is-enough and move to correct the mistakes they made in the recent past in the name of “political correctness”, and restore the notion that when you are in Britain you have to do as the Britons do.

    Should Sri Lanka be far behind in saying “when in Sri Lanka do as the Sinhalese do”? I think we should move hand-in hand with the British to restore common sense and preserve our Motherland as the only homeland of our Sinhala people!

  3. Lorenzo Says:

    Leela and USA, you have been taken for another ride!!

    MR has revealed BBS leader’s safe place to Islamic people and representatives from MIDDLE EAST ISLAMIC leaders!!

    NO DANSALA for VESAK but a massive dansala for RAMADAN.

    “ayyo ayyo! memath minissu. Singhala minissuta mema yaaluwa hitiyama athi. Hathura ona ne.”

    “මහින්දගේ නිවසේ මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයින්ගේ ඉෆ්තාර් උත්සවයක්.. ඥාණසාර හිමි සැගවූ තැන මහින්ද කියයි..
    June 16, 2017 at 2:10 pm | lanka C news | ලංකා සී නිවුස්

    මහින්දගේ නිවසේ මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයින්ගේ ඉෆ්තාර් උත්සවයක්.. ඥාණසාර හිමි සැගවූ තැන මහින්ද කියයි..

    මුස්ලිම් ජාතිකයින් රාමසාන් උපවාසය අතහැරීමේ ඉෆ්තාර් උත්සවයක් හිටපු ජනාධිපති මහින්ද රාජපක්‍ෂ මහතාගේ විජේරාම නිල නිවසේදී පැවැත්වින.

    එම අවස්ථාවට මුස්ලිම් රටවල් කිහිපයකම මෙරට තානාපතිවරුන් ඇතුළු විශාල පිරිසක් එක්ව සිටියහ.

    එම අවස්ථාවේදී මාධ්‍ය අමතමින් හිටපු ජනාධිපතිවරයා කියා සිටියේ බොදු බල සේනා මහ ලේකම් ගලගොඩඅත්තේ ඥානසාර හිමියන් සඟවා ගෙන ඇත්තේ වෙන කිසිවෙකු නොව ආණ්ඩුවම විසින් බවයි.

    තව දුරටත් අදහස් දැක්වු රාජපක්‍ෂ මහතා කියා සිටියේ ජාතිවාදී සංවිධාන මර්දනයට නව නීති කිසිවක් අවශ්‍ය නොවන බවත් දැනට පොලීසියට ඇති බලතල ප්‍රමාණවත් බවත්ය.”

    “https://lankacnews.com/%e0%b6%b8%e0%b7%84%e0%b7%92%e0%b6%b1%e0%b7%8a%e0%b6%af%e0%b6%9c%e0%b7%9a-%e0%b6%b1%e0%b7%92%e0%b7%80%e0%b7%83%e0%b7%9a-%e0%b6%b8%e0%b7%94%e0%b7%83%e0%b7%8a%e0%b6%bd%e0%b7%92%e0%b6%b8%e0%b7%8a/”

  4. Lorenzo Says:

    Oh look the GRACIOUS QATAR ambassador is also there!

    “Chingalaya modaya kavum kanna yothaya”!

  5. SA Kumar Says:

    “Chingalaya modaya kavum kanna yothaya”!- Even after May 2009 still you (Tamil) believe this ?

    Sinhalese never ever Modayas We All Tamils know Since Elra to VP time .

    they are great sense of humour people We Tamil do not know what is that about !!!!

  6. Ananda-USA Says:

    Muslim Ministers, and BLIND advocates of Sanhidiyawa and Sahajeevanaya, say there are NO EXTREMIST Muslim groups at work in Sri Lanka.

    Yet, when I am in Sri Lanka, I see Wahhabi Muslim influence everywhere!

    Whether it is in the totally BLACK CLAD Muslim women that we NEVER had in Sri Lanka in the past, entire neighborhoods bought up my Muslims in Colombo and its suburban towns, entire towns declared for Muslims and Muslim businessmen only, aggressive Muslim politicians stealing govt lands and settling Muslims on them, PROLIFERATION of Massive Mosques in areas of special significance to the Buddhist religion, and aggressive enforcement of Sharia Law within the Muslim Community.

    Statistical demographic data in the last census clearly shows that the Muslim population has nearly DOUBLED in the last 30 years and coming close in numbers to the Tamil population.

    Taken as a whole, it amounts to CREEPING ENCROACHMENT and CONVERSION of Sri Lanka into a Muslim country.

    Sri Lanka’s RELIANCE on the remittances by our workers in Middle Eastern countries, makes it IMPOSSIBLE for any Sri Lankan government to take any action against this CREEPING CONVERSION. That alone makes the diversion of the SRi Lankan economy away from this RELIANCE on expatriate worker remittances into an ECONOMY based on INDIGENOUS MANUFACTURING and SERVICES a matter of the HIGHEST PRIORITY if Sri Lanka is to preserve its status as the ONLY REFUGE of its Sinhala Buddhist culture and people!

    Meanwhile, Muslim politicians DISMISS and DENY that ISIS is at work recruiting Sri Lankan Muslims for fighting in the Middle East, and more seriously TRAINING THEM to fight in Sri Lanka upon their return home.

    Here is yet another newspaper report on recruitment by ISIS, although I cannot vouch for the credibility of the source.

    ………………………..
    ‘ISIS local chief recruiter targets youths from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka’
    Fri, Jun 16, 2017, 04:50 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

    June 16 (Daily Star) A fugitive chief recruiter of the Islamic State in the Indian subcontinent has targeted youths from three countries – India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – to involve them with the global terror outfit.

    Mohammed Shafi Armar, a tech savvy, has been operating on Facebook and other personal messenger services to contact, brainwash and recruit youths from the three nations, reports NDTV today.

    He has been named a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US yesterday, becoming the first Indian leader of the terror outfit against whom America has sponsored sanctions.

    The US State Treasury Department, while updating its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT), has included in it Armar, a native of Bhatkal in Karnataka, clearing the way for sanctions against him, adds the report.

    An Interpol Red Corner notice is also pending against the 30-year-old Armar, who has many aliases like “Chhote Maula”, “Anjan Bhai” and “Yousuf al-Hindi”.

    “Mohammed Shafi Armar is a leader and head recruiter in India for the Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) group, ISIS,” the State Department said.

    “He has cultivated a group of dozens of ISIS sympathisers who are involved in terrorist activities across India, such as plotting attacks, procuring weapons, and identifying locations for terrorist training camps,” said the statement.

    Armar was said to have left for Pakistan along with his elder brother after the crackdown on Indian Mujahideen cadres. After a fight with Bhatkal brothers, including Riyaz, the founder of Indian Mujahideen, in Pakistan, Armar is believed to have created Ansar ul Tawhid, which later pledged its allegiance to the ISIS, NDTV reports.

    His links to the ISIS were also the highlight of the interrogation of Yasin Bhatkal, who was arrested near the Nepal border in 2013.

    Armar first came on the radar of investigation agencies when the NIA was probing suspected ISIS cadres in Ratlam of Madhya Pradesh.

    During the interrogation of alleged IS operatives, it emerged that Armar was motivating and radicalising Muslim youths in India. He was said to have been recruiting youths for the Jund ul Khalifa-e-Hind through online radicalisation.

  7. Ananda-USA Says:

    Here is ANOTHER DISASTER Western NGOs in collusion with the Yamapalana KALU SUDDHAS and want to IMPOSE on Sri Lanka: LEGALIZATION of IMMORAL behavior that undemines the very foundation of human survival as a species: PROCREATION!

    I know the answer: they SMELL an opportunity in a Sri Lanka governed by WEAK IMMORAL PUPPETS!

    Why don’t they go after the Muslim Countries of the Middle East led by Saudi Arabia, that SHINING BASTION of Human Rights and defender of Sharia Law, which President Donald Trump recently visited to establish COMMON CAUSE against Iran, a much more democratic and humane Muslim nation than Saudi Arabia will ever be?

    I all SMELL rank INCONSISTENCY and HYPOCRISY here; DO YOU??

    …………………………….
    SL urged to repeal laws against lesbians, gays
    Diplomat points out absurdity in continuing with British introduced legislation

    June 15, 2017, 10:27 pm

    By Shamindra Ferdinando

    The European Union has stepped up its controversial campaign to pressure Sri Lanka to do away with Penal Code Sections (365 and 365A) which provide for prosecuting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons.

    The EU sponsored business roundtable on the ‘challenges and benefits of the diversity in the workplace’ at the Taj Samudra yesterday with leading local LGBT organization Equal Ground spearheading the event.

    The British High Commission backed the EU call with its Second Secretary (Political) Philippe Dickinson urging Sri Lanka to repeal the relevant sections without further delay. Dickinson pointed out the absurdity in Sri Lanka continuing with laws introduced by the British because they had already been abolished in the UK.

    The US and the TIDES Foundation threw their weight behind the event.

    On behalf of Equal Ground, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera addressed the gathering while newly appointed President’s Counsel Prasantha Lal de Alwis flayed successive governments for not repealing anti-LGBT laws. The PC called existing legislation ‘stupid laws.’

    Responding to The Island queries, sources said the EU sponsored event was in line with ongoing overall programme to explain the urgent requirement to address concerns of Sri Lanka’s LGBT community.

    They said the EU has discussed the issue with successive governments and was in the process of creating an awareness among the people.

    The Joint Opposition has repeatedly accused the government of planning to legalise LGBT rights. The accusations have been denied by the President’s Office. The JO has alleged that the EU wants Sri Lanka to legalise LGBT rights in return for GSP plus.

    Alleging that he LGBT community has been discriminated against for 134 years, Equal Ground has launched an online petition called 134 Campaign to garner support for their project. In support of the LGBT community, Equal Ground under the theme ‘Colombo Pride’ has organised several events, including, rainbow music and dance festival, bus parade and film festival Abhimani. Organisers have announced that a collection of ‘Queer’ short and feature length films from India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australia, South Korea, America, Germany and Sri Lanka would be shown at the Goethe-Institut from June 18 to22.

    The event at the Colombo Taj marked the beginning of Colombo Pride, week-long annual programme held with the support of a section of the diplomatic community.

    Dileep Mudadeniya, Vice President of John Keells also addressed the gathering while the round-table was led by Joshua Senn, Acting Public Affairs Officer at the US embassy.

    In response to a query by The Island, the EU Delegation in Colombo said: “The discussion focussed on the responsibility of corporate citizens to act as agents of change particularly with respect to human rights and the elimination of discriminatory practices in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

    “The speakers presented the ‘Business Case for Diversity and Inclusivity” with a special focus on the inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning [‘LGBTIQ’] employees.

    Evidence was provided to establish the existence of discrimination of employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and, the economic costs, such as lower productivity, increased employee absenteeism and employee turnover to underscore the importance of an open and accepting corporate culture.”

  8. Ananda-USA Says:

    Wahhabi INTOLERANCE on ONE SIDE, Western LICENTIOUSNESS on the OTHER SIDE!

    What is the way FORWARD for Sri Lanka?

    The ALL-KNOWING Lord Buddha has gave us the ANSWER millenia ago: The Middle Path is the WAY FORWARD, NOW and ALWAYS!

    His IMMORTAL MESSAGE still ECHOES and RESOUNDS as the ULTIMATE TRUTH in our Sinhala Buddhist minds!

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