Updated: Jun 3, 2021
By Insiyah Adamjee | United Kingdom
As a Muslim, I’ve heard the ‘joke’ too many times – “ah, why haven’t you been married off yet?”
The legal age of marriage in Sri Lanka is 18, but a loophole exists under the decades-old Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), where Muslim community leaders are able to decide the marriage age with no minimum age requirement. In all cases, the leaders who allow for child marriages are men, much of which force the engagement over young girls. The rate of child marriages in Sri Lanka stands at 12% as of 2017, and South Asia as a region has the largest rate in the world (UNICEF).
Drawing from one girl’s story of her forced marriage, as reported by the BBC, one can only imagine the kind of horrors these children endure. The girl describes numerous instances of verbal abuse, un-consensual sex, beatings, and a miscarriage.
What is being done to combat child marriage?
In short, not much: it’s a lot of show and no tell. Despite the tireless efforts of several Muslim Women activist groups; such as the Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum (MWRAF), the Women’s Action Network (WAN) and the Muslim Women’s Development Trust (MWDT); governments have launched and relaunched campaigns and investigations in order to reform the MMDA, but with no results.
Sri Lanka has signed on to see the end of child marriage by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, there was no report of any progress at the 2018 Voluntary National Review at the High-Level Political Forum.
During The Periodic Review in 2017, the government supported recommendations to review the absence of a minimum age for marriage under Muslim law. Yet again, we fail to see any real change.
Conservative groups such as the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) have resisted the call for change, stating that according to the Quran “there is no restriction for age of marriage”. The Quran also emphasises on the kind and fair treatment of all life. I suppose it is easy to ignore what you don’t want to see while you’re busy snatching away childhoods and human rights.
Sri Lanka’s rate of child marriage is comparatively low to countries like Bangladesh and India. However, it does not mean that the issue is to be swept under the rug. We can only hope that our government realizes the inhumanity of the problem and reforms the MMDA, bringing the base age of any marriage to be 18 and of voluntary consent from the bride and groom.
As citizens, it is our responsibility to be aware of and sensitive towards child marriage. You can also donate to and support the efforts of several organisations working to combat the situation in society and government, such as the Malini Foundation, Women In Need and the Vehilihini Development Centre.
As the next Sri Lankan generation, it is important to share our opinions! Use social media as a platform to make some noise about issues that are important to you. It is crucial that you vote to elect parties and candidates that you feel will represent your opinions and priorities in Parliament and make real change in our country, which (and I say this as an optimist) we will see soon!
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