Easter bombings give impetus to Muslim marriage law reform | Sunday Observer

Easter bombings give impetus to Muslim marriage law reform

26 May, 2019

The Government is looking at reforming the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) and declaring 18 years as the minimum marriageable age for Muslim women, in the wake of the April 21 Easter Sunday suicide bombings that claimed 258 lives and left nearly 500 others injured.

During a discussion with over 40 diplomatic missions including officials of the United Nations and the United Nations Development Program on Friday, May 24, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the MMDA will be reformed to increase the marriageable age of Muslim women to 18 to be in par with the law applied to other communities in the country.

PM Wickremesinghe said this when he was questioned by officials of diplomatic missions regarding short and long term plans to ensure de-radicalisation of communities.

Reforms will be also be made to the education sector. Director, Development Communications at the PM’s office, Sudarshana Gunawardana told the Sunday Observer, that these reforms will be introduced soon.

Women and children’s rights activists have been lobbying to amend the MMDA for years, and the government set up a committee to look into the issue about a decade ago. Its report with recommendations was handed over to the Ministry of Justice in January last year. However, the government failed to take any action. Debate on the MMDA resurfaced following the Easter Sunday bombings when investigations revealed several suicide bombers including National Thawheed Jama’ath Leader Mohammad Zahran’s who masterminded the attacks married very young girls.

Zahran’s wife Fatima Sadia was only 14 at the time of her marriage, while Sarah, the wife of Atchchi Muhammadu Muhammadu Hasthun (the bomber responsible for the St. Sebastian Church attack) was abducted by him and married at the age of 16. Sarah died in the Sainthamaruthu raid along with 14 others. Sadia and her daughter survived.

“The National Thowheeth Jama’ath, Ceylon Thowheed Jamaath and the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama were against amending the MMDA,” human rights campaigner Shreen Abdul Saroor said.She said the present law makes sure that Muslim women are there only to reproduce and do what they are told by the men, violating their basic human rights. Under the present law, females over 12, can be given in marriage, and children below 12 can be married off with permission from a Quazi Court. The women are directed to these Quazi Courts (which are led by men), when seeking a divorce or upon report of abuse. “Women are discriminated under this ‘kangaroo’ court. They are treated as second or third citizens,” Saroor said.