The Sri Lankan Presidential panel set up to suggest amendments to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of 1951, is likely to recommend raising the minimum age of marriage for Muslim girls from 12 to either 16 or 18, a member of the panel told the New Indian Express on condition of anonymity.
“The committee favors raising the age of marriage, but it is yet to decide if it should be raised to 16 or 18.”
“Discussions are still going on and we hope to submit our recommendation in June,” the member said.
The committee was set up in 2009 by the then Lankan President,
Mahinda Rajapaksa.It is headed by the retired Supreme Court Judge Saleem Marsoof. One of the key organizations associated with it is the Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum (MWRAF) headed by the well known social activist, Jezima Ismail.
The committee has been on the job for long because of the sensitive nature of the issue.While social activists, human rights workers and the majority Sinhalese community have been clamoring for raising the age of marriage for Muslim girls to 18, to put it on par with the minimum age for the rest of Lankan females, the community itself has been wary about the bid for change.
For instance, when non-Muslim MPs, Hirunika Premachandra and M.A.Sumanthiran, took up the issue in and out of parliament, agitated Muslim leaders said that non-Muslims had no right to interfere.Sumanthiran was shouted down in parliament by Muslim ministers and MPs.
However, among Muslims themselves, a good section is in favor of making a change in tune with the times.
For example, S.M.Aliyar, the Qazi of the all-Muslim town of Kattankudy in the Eastern Province, told Express that Muslim law does not say that marriage at 12 is mandatory for girls. The minimum age could vary from country to country and as per the culture of the times. If the government and people of a country, in their wisdom, decide to raise the age of marriage, there should be no objection, Aliyar said. (Colombo Gazette)