Nearly half of the world’s child marriages occur in South Asia. The good news is that incidences of child marriage are extremely low in Sri Lanka; child marriages account for 2 percent of the marriages in the island. That 2 percent, however, is the tragic result of the drawn out civil war and unfortified laws. With the war behind us, we can pare down that percentage further with education and opportunities, but this involves creating awareness and dedicated social work.
Having acquired research on Post-War Trends in Child Marriage in Sri Lanka by FOKUS WOMEN and the Ministry of Child Affairs, we have put together helpful information on the situation in Sri Lanka – the how and why.
The internationally preferred age for marriage is 18 years for both boys and girls. Sri Lanka and Nepal are the only countries in South Asia that have specified a minimum age of 18 at which both boys and girls can legally tie the knot.
That sounds great but it clearly isn’t a bulwark against child marriage; a few of these marriages seep through the cracks on account of weak laws.
So, let’s take a look at the Sri Lankan laws on marriage.
There are ambiguous and conflicting provisions in the General Marriage Ordinance (GMO) and the Kandyan Marriage and Divorce Act (KMDA) with regard to age of marriage and consent to marriage that have resulted in child marriage. Such as, the registration of a marriage not being compulsory in the GMO.
Then we have the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) which doesn’t specify a minimum age for marriage.