Colombo, November 8 (The New Indian Express): The Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG) has said that Sri Lanka is duty bound to carry out reforms in the archaic Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) 1951, to accord with the international human rights covenants it has signed.
In 2010 the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee reminded Sri Lanka that its statutory and personal laws discriminate against women and girls such as by allowing early marriage of girls as young as 12 years, thereby restricting their economic, social and cultural rights.
Therefore, repealing such laws “is an immediate obligation of the State parties which cannot be conditioned to willingness of concerned communities to amend their laws”.
The EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Tung-Laï Margue, said at a press briefing on November 1 that the GSP Plus concession will be available to Sri Lanka if it adheres to the 27 international conventions that it has already ratified. Minimum age of marriage is derived from such an international convention and is part of Sri Lanka’s obligation any way.
Sri Lanka is party to the Convention of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The CEDAW Committee stressed that governments “must address patriarchal traditions and attitudes and open family law and policy to the same scrutiny with regard to discrimination against women that is given to the ‘public’ aspects of individual and community life.”
Article 16(1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution, which allows for customary laws like the MMDA to have precedence over the Constitution, means that Sri Lanka is in acting in direct violation of Article 26 (relating to right to equality) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The CEDAW Committee also voiced its concern at the fact that there is no opportunity for judicial review of legislation pre-dating the Constitution.
“Given the current constitutional reform process, we believe that it is also necessary to ensure the repeal of the Article 16(1). As misconceived by conservatives, the repeal of Article 16(1) will not abolish MMDA, it will only allow for review of discriminatory provisions within the MMDA. The fear thus that this would remove all personal laws is greatly unfounded,” the Muslim Personal Law Reform Action Group (MPLRAG) said.
“Clearly MMDA must be reformed. It must be reformed because that is what the Muslim community, particularly Muslim women want, not because it is required by international community. It is important to note that there has been a long-standing call for reform of the MMDA from within the Muslim community,” it said.
“Reform has been considered in the 1970s with the first government appointed committee which also recommended the raising the minimum age of marriage. There were subsequent government appointed committees set up to no avail. The most recent committee was set up in 2009 headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof. This committee is yet to submit its recommendations for reforms of the MMDA.”
“This rhetoric of MMDA reform being part of an international or national government conspiracy to wipe out Muslim law in Sri Lanka does great disservice to Muslim women and children who have been waiting too long for protection, dignity and respect.”