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Private Member’s Bill seeks to free Muslim women from Child-Marriage

Muslim women’s rights activists are welcoming a Private Member’s Bill which seeks to introduce a minimum age of marriage for all Sri Lankans as a positive sign for the victims of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA).

The Bill has been drafted by the Chairman of the Parliamentary Sectoral Oversight Committee on Women and Gender, MP Thusitha Wijemanna.

The Bill, issued on 16 December 2019, aims to introduce 18 years as the minimum age of marriage for all Sri Lankans.

Wijemanna, a UNP MP from Kegalle and a Medical Practitioner, points out that “underage marriage is an infringement of a young person’s right to education, development and security and it may render children vulnerable to forms of physical and mental violence.”

The Bill points out that it is the duty of the State to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to learn, develop and grow to become a better and more prosperous society.

Speaking to RepublicNext, women’s rights activist Shreen Sanoor said that the Bill drafted by Wijemanna will create a positive impact on the girls of the Muslim community as well as all young women in general.

“Over the past thirty to forty years Muslim women have been struggling to gain equality and some two and a half year ago women’s rights activists came up to speak against injustice faced by Muslim women, ” Saroor said.

She went on to say that activists have spoken to Muslim politicians in this regard and although they acknowledge that there are problems very little has been done to address the problem.

“Therefore, the MP’s Bill to introduce a minimum age of marriage is really a good move and it will secure the girls’ right to education. This is not a racist Bill. The Bill comes from MP Wijemanna’s experience as she has studied the inequalities faced by Muslim women,” Saroor said.

Wijemanna is also proposing amending the Marriage Registration Ordinance, to remove the exception given to Muslim men to marry underage girls.

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Activists are also supporting the changes Wijemanna want in this archaic law passed before Independence in 1907.

“This will give the option for Muslim women to go to Magistrate’s Court when necessary. All the Bills presented by MP Wijemanna is in favour of the Muslim community. We will go to the Supreme Court to defend all her Bills and the victims of MMDA are eagerly waiting to support her,’ Sanoor added.

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