COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan Constitutional Assembly’s sub-committee on Fundamental Rights has recommended that within three months of the enactment of the new constitution, the President should appoint a five member commission to go into the constitutional validity of the existing written and unwritten laws (including personal laws) and submit a report to him within a year.
The President shall table the report in the parliament at the earliest thereafter, the panel said.
The sub-committee recommended that the proposed commission should have representatives from various communities and people who have distinguished themselves in the field of human rights.
Until a decision is taken to amend any of the existing written or unwritten laws or personal laws, the existing laws will remain.
This recommendation helps postpone the task of amending the controversial Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of 1951.
While many Muslim women’s groups have been seeking an amendment of the MMDA to ensure Muslim women’s rights as guaranteed by the country’s constitution, Muslim men, Muslim political parties and the Ulemas have been opposing any amendments under external pressure or duress.
They maintain that some of the amendments sought could go against the Madhabs (religious orders) practiced by Sri Lankan Muslims and would therefore have to have the explicit sanction of the Ulemas.
Issues on which Muslim women’s groups are agitating are: the age of marriage of girls; the girls’ consent to marriage; and the gender-bias in the Quazi court system.
The agitators say that the MMDA’s silence on the age of marriage results in girls of 14 or 15 being married off. Technically, even a 12-year-old could be married off, though such cases are rare. At any rate, a good number of marriages take place before the bride reaches 18 which is the statutory threshold for adulthood in Sri Lanka. As regards the Quazi courts, the grievance is that they are all-male and therefore biased against females.
These issues had been taken up from time to time in the past, but always inconclusively. The last attempt was made in 2009 when the Rajapaksa government set up the Justice Saleem Marsoof commission. But that panel is yet to submit its report obviously because of the sensitivity of the issues involved.
However, the Constitutional Assembly’s sub-committee on Fundamental Rights has recommended provisions to ensure that women enjoy rights equal to men in all spheres including the family. It has also said that no girl should be married off without her consent.
But even as regards these recommendations the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress’s representative, MHM.Salman, had sought clarifications on how they will affect Muslim Personal Law.