The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) has been in force since 1956 and governs marriage and family matters for Sri Lankan Muslims. The Act contains many discriminatory and unequal provisions that particularly affect Muslim women and girls in Sri Lanka. This includes: the lack of minimum age of marriage; unequal provisions and procedures for women at the time of registering marriages as well as during divorce; polygamy without conditions; barring of women from positions of Quazi judges, marriage registrars and other key positions in the Quazi court, among other provisions.
For the past many decades, Muslim women and men have been advocating for reform of the Act. There have been multiple government appointed and independent committees set up since 1990’s to no avail.
In 2009 a 17-member Committee was appointed by the then Minister of Justice to review the discriminatory provisions and recommend amendments to the MMDA. The Committee, 9 years later, has not yet submitted a report. We are aware that significant effort has been put in by committee members towards formulating recommendations for reform of MMDA amidst challenging debates and divergent views from among the Muslim community.
Muslim women continue to be regarded as second-class citizens, who are unequal to men in matters of marriage and family. The longstanding call for reform by Muslim women in Sri Lanka has been to ensure justice and dignity – starting with our homes and families. The State response to this call has been with the excuse to await the report of the Committee.
We are deeply appreciative of the work of the committee thus far, which we hear has reached a conclusion – as informed by government delegates in the recent review before the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Geneva last week. However, there has been no official communication about an exact date of submission, or any indication of the timeline of reforms that will take place thereafter.
We understand that the submission of the report by the Committee is just the start of the process for reforms, as each individual recommendation for amendments to the MMDA will need to be considered in light of constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, as well as other human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international treaty obligations. But the submission of the report we believe, will be a significant step towards the expediting progress on equality and justice for Muslim women.
Therefore today’s silent stand is to say NO MORE TO DELAYS and to ask the Minister of Justice, Hon. Thalatha Athukorale to:
- Provide the Muslim community with an urgent update of the status of the report and its exact date of submission. If date of submission has already been decided, please let it be publicly known!
- Ensure that the report once submitted is shared with the public
- Invite open consultation and dialogue about the contents and recommendations of the report, especially engage with women who are directly affected by the MMDA
- Brief the Muslim community on the process and timeline as to when the MMDA amendment bill will be prepared and tabled in Parliament
- Ensure that any and all amendments considered to the MMDA are in keeping with equality and non-discrimination between Muslim men and women and formulated with full engagement and participation of women’s groups.
Muslims Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG) team