Plans to amend Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act

Plans to amend Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act

January 14, 2011   11:50 am


There was community based dialogue to amend the current Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act to prevent early marriages of underage girls, the Acting Permanent Representative of Sri Lankan to the UN, Major General Shavendra Silva said while addressing the Working Group on Girls NGO Committee on UNICEF on the yesterday.


He added that a single committee termed the “District Child Development Committee”, has also been established to monitor the early childhood care and development.

It has been revealed through a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health that around 40,000 underage girls in the country get pregnant every year.


In his statement Major General Shavendra Silva emphasized the remarkable progress made by the Sri Lankan women in the social and economic spheres and the progress in the reform of the gender discriminatory laws and increased awareness of gender and women’s rights issues among members of the public.


The other round table committee panelists consists of Jerobeam Shaanik (Deputy Permanent Representative of Namibia), Sylvia Hordosh ((UN-DAW) and Stacey Roberts (Executive Director-Expanding your Horizons).   





Distinguished Colleagues,


I am indeed honoured to be invited for this useful forum. I also appreciate the opportunity to share the unique success story of the Girl Child in Sri Lanka. 


It is widely acknowledged that women in Sri Lanka have made remarkable progress in the social and economic spheres. Women enjoy greater visibility in the public sphere that includes the state bureaucracy, the corporate sector, the professions, academia, the polity and the arts. There has also been progress in the reform of gender discriminatory laws and increased awareness of gender and women’s rights issues among members of the public.


We have also demonstrated deep commitments to the Convention on the Rights of the Child through national activities to secure a better world for our children. Sri Lanka has therefore undertaken concerted measures to implement the provisions of the Convention on a priority basis since its ratification two decades ago. We have introduced robust social development policies, as well as legal and institutional measures to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of our children. Schooling has been a main priority among those actions.


As a matter of core national principles, the successive governments in Sri Lanka have adopted consistent policies to promote gender equality. Mainly the introduction of free education in 1945 gave equal opportunities for boys and girls to attend schools together. Also the universal franchise introduced to the country in 1931, allowed men and women to participate in the country’s political system. We thus believe these policies led Sri Lanka to become number 16 in Gender Equality, according to the global gender gap index.   


Successive governments have also made massive investments in education since independence in 1948. Education is viewed as a basic right in our country and is supported by a Government Policy that has made schooling compulsory for children between 5-14 years, irrespective of their gender. From the Kindergarten to University it is state funded.  The Government also provides major portions of the school books, uniforms and a mid-day meal. As a result, recruitment to primary schools stands around 97.5% and literacy among children between the ages 15 – 24 is around 95%, which you may agree, a significant achievement for a developing country. 


The ratio of girls to boys in primary education reached 99% in 2007. Enrolment figures are marginally higher for boys in primary school level at 51% for boys as appose to 49% for girls but the figure is higher for girls at junior secondary level at 51% for girls as appose to 49% for boys. This demonstrates a tendency of having more educated adult women in the country in the future.


Sri Lanka has almost achieved the 2nd MDG of universal primary education. Currently the number of children in the official school age who have enrolled in primary school is 97.5% of the total population of children within the official school age. On a general basis the figure is 97.4% for females and 97.5% for males. Girls tend to perform better than boys at the Grade 5 scholarship examination and other public examinations. Girls are associated with lower repetition rates and drop out rates. In 2006, the proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach grade 5 was 99.6%. On a gender disaggregated basis, the figure was 99.8% for females and 99.3% for males. With 20.3% of the country’s population having access to computers, our children will be able to freely benefit from the world of knowledge. 


Boasting one of the highest literacy rates in south Asia in 2006, the literacy rate for women in Sri Lanka was 89.9%, yielding a gender differential of 3.3%. Sectoral and district differentials show that only young women in the plantation sector, which is a major economic contributor in the country, lag behind their male counterparts, while in other areas literacy rates of young women has surpassed that of men. We have launched special programmes to address these disparities.


Similarly, the Government has invested heavily in the health sector.  Healthcare is funded by the Government and is free of charge from birth to death.  Sri Lanka’s child mortality rate stands around 11.3 per 1000 births and maternal mortality rate remains 39.3 per 100,000 births. 96% of births are attended by trained professionals. The countrywide network of mid-wives provides scientific counseling for new mothers.


The country’s judiciary has played a major role in policing violence against women and girl child. The Sri Lankan Judge’s Institute has conducted training programmes for judges on abuse of women and children with emphasis of implementation of the Prevention of the Domestic Violence Act. The training imparted is for a multi- disciplinary group including Law enforcement officers, Prosecutors, and Judicial Medical officers, has been effective. The Police department has also conducted a series of training and awareness programmes to sensitize Police Officers regarding issues relating to combating violence against women and children.


We have also enacted several pieces of legislations. Protection from employment is provided by the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act. This Act increased the minimum age of employment and enhanced penalties for violations. The Amended Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act of 2006 prohibit the employment of any person under the age of 18 years in any hazardous occupation. To safe guard against the recruitment of children for illegal activities, the Penal Code Act of 2006, makes it a penal offence to recruit and engage a child for use in armed combat, labour, trafficking and pornography via the electronic medium.  We have set up a National plan of Action for Children (2010-2015) to address geographical disparities and meet the needs of care and protection of children in conflict affected areas with improved involvement of the government authorities.


In terms of protecting the entity of family, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act provides protection orders to safeguard both children and women. The National Policy on Disability in 2001 promotes an inclusive approach to education for children with disabilities. With a booming tourism industry, we have adopted the national action plan, as well as the formulation of a code of conduct to address potential child sex tourism.  In this regard the National child helpline was set up in 2008.  


Meanwhile, there was community based dialogue to amend the current Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act to prevent early marriages of underage girls. A single committee termed the “District Child Development Committee”, has also been established to monitor the early childhood care and development.


Sri Lanka was among one of the first UN Member States that volunteered to set up a National Task Force in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 1539 and 1612 to monitor and report on child conscription for armed combat.  Sri Lanka closely cooperated with the office of the SRSG on Children and Armed Conflict and with UNICEF in implementing a zero tolerance policy on child recruitment.


Sri Lanka also supported the UN Security Council’s deliberations under Resolutions 1539 and 1612 on Children and Armed Conflict, to focus attention on the abhorrent practice of child recruitment for combat by terrorist groups, and the deployment of young women as suicide bombers, particularly by the LTTE in Sri Lanka. 


In the aftermath of the long drawn conflict in 2009, through a massive humanitarian mission, the Government took concerted action to rehabilitate and reintegrate all former child combatants.  Among them, 351 were girls. Knowing that these children had been forced to take up arms instead of school books, the Government of Sri Lanka adopted a dynamic approach towards their reintegration.  Such an approach was based on the principles of women empowerment, livelihood training, psycho-social support, and above all, restorative justice. For those who missed the opportunity of experiencing a childhood and a formal education, arrangements have been made through the “catch up schools” to enable them to complete the General Certificate of Education examinations, irrespective of their current age. The state and society view them as victims, and not as perpetrators. The lessons learnt and the good practices adopted by Sri Lanka in the process of rapidly restoring the future of these children are unique.


To assist the former LTTE combatants, including women, a vocational, technical and language training opportunities are offered under the “Accelerated Skills Acquisition Programme”. The “Nanasala”, or the centres of wisdom, is another such programme launched in the conflict affected areas to provide communitry based education to the youth of whom majority are females.


Sri Lanka would be conducting a national population census in 2011.  This is the first time a countrywide census will take place since 1981 due to the conflict. The census would pave the way to adopt gender disaggregated methods to address data gaps in areas such as women and girls with disabilities and their access to education and health services. A special gender focus in this census would facilitate the development of policy inputs to initiate further gender oriented programmes.

Such consolidated action is spearheaded by the government to further empower women and girls in post -conflict Sri Lanka.    


I thank you.

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