When rights of a girl child are compromised

Posted by Asitha G Punchihewa on March 13, 2018 at 5:45 AM

When rights of a girl child are compromised - By Asitha G Punchihewa

Sri Lanka joined hands with the international community to celebrate the world children’s day on the 1st October. The Government of Sri Lanka as a signatory to the child rights convention has given an international pledge to safeguard its children through the ratification. Theoretically it is a marvel but in reality, Sri Lanka’s child protection framework has not been able to successfully accommodate and address concerns of the girl children belonging to the Moor- Islamic minority.

While all the children belonging to non Moor- Islamic have a legal protection to safeguard their rights, Moor-Islamic girls do not enjoy the legal protection that the other children enjoy. The minimum age for marriage for girls was spelt out in the General Marriage Ordinance -1907s 1512. Under general law, it was 14 for girls and 16 for boys. However an exception was reserved to accommodate the Kandyan tradition where the minimum age for girls was 12 for girls and 16 for boys. During the post colonial period the Kandyan Marriage Act 1952 s. 66 too followed the same benchmarks. However, the post independence Muslim Marriages and Divorce Act (1951) did not specify a minimum age. The 1951 Act remains enacted after over sixty years. This has disallowed the guarantee for girls born to parents following the Islamic faith from enjoying all rights that a child should enjoy.

Under penal code reforms in 1995 section 364, having intercourse with a girl below 16 years of age is considered as statutory rape. In the case of Muslims, the relevant age for statutory rape is 12 years. A marriage involving a party below 18 years of age is considered as an under aged marriage and is illegal in Sri Lanka. In the case of Muslims, the minimum age for marriage is 12 years, that too subject to be altered along with the consent given by the regional religious head of the mosque. However, the consent of the girl is not mentioned clearly. Simply, they could be forced, coerced and are subject to sacrifice their education, health to become breeding machines and to satisfy sexual desires of adult males at a tender age, even as young as 12 years or less.

The United Nations Child Rights Convention was ratified in Sri Lanka in 1991 and the Children’s Charter was implemented since 1992. Through the signatures the government of Sri Lanka has given an international pledge to recognize all people of Sri Lanka under 18 years of age as children and to safeguard their interests. This further strengthened the standards set under CEDAW which had been ratified in 1981.

Gender and child rights activists have nevertheless kept relatively silent on the different aspects pertaining to the minimum age for marriage and the minimum age to have consensual sex. The relative silence has also been influenced by the much organized religious, economic and political leadership representing the moor community of Sri Lanka. Although this form of grave violation of child rights taking place in every corner of Sri Lanka with legal immunity, the general public has kept their cool and silence in the name of ethno-religious tolerance.

The Muslim leaders have miserably failed to mobilize their community to safeguard the rights of their children. Practice of cultural rights should not surpass basic human rights such as right to life and right to dignity. The Government of Sri Lanka too has not been able to successfully implement a common law to cover all groups of people from all walks of life. The leaders belonging to other religions and general public have the obligation to protect the children who are deprived of their rights. It is this long overdue course that we should campaign for in order to universally safeguard the rights of all children.

Punchihewa, A. (2013 Oct) When rights of a girl child are compromised. The Nation. Rivira Media Corporation.


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