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MPLRAG accuses Muslim MPs of stonewalling reforms to protect the rights of their women and children

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Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG) on Friday (14) alleged that Muslim MPs continued to thwart attempts made to amend the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) to protect the rights of women and children.

MPLRAG said in a letter dated 8 June 2023, 18 Muslim MPs had submitted recommendations in response to the Draft Bill on MMDA Reforms to Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe.

Issuing a press release, it said, “The MPs’ recommendations categorically oppose all progressive reform reflected in the draft Bill, presented by the Ministry of Justice, based on the recent report of the 2021 Advisory Committee on MMDA Reforms. They even regress on progressive positions that were unanimously agreed on by all members of the previous 2009 committee headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof,” MPLRAG said.

The signatories to the MPs’ letter were A. H. M. Fowzie, Rishad Bathiudeen, Kabir Hashim, A. L. M. Athaulla, Naseer Ahamed, M.S. Thowfeek, Ishak Rahuman, Imtiaz Bakeer Markar, S.M. Marikkar, Marjan Faleel, A. H. M. Abdul Haleem, K. Cader Masthan, S.M.M. Muszhaaraff, Faizal Cassim, Ali Sabri Raheem, Imran Maharoof and M. Muzzamil.

MPLRAG alleged that the MPs recommend that the bride’s signature on the marriage register to have no value without a male guardian signing, denying women their autonomy.

The MPs have also recommended to maintain the Quazi system without any changes, including criteria and process for appointing Quazis, MPLRAG said.

“Among other recommendations are; exceptions to minimum age of marriage to allow under 18 year-olds to marry; rejection of equal divorce procedures and retaining the current highly discriminatory divorce system and procedures; rejection of new provisions (introduced in the draft Bill) for sharing of matrimonial property and securing the best interests of children; and maintaining the discrimination between different sects and madhabs (schools of jurisprudence) of Muslims in Sri Lanka,” MPLRAG said.

The organization said that there is a lack of consistency in Muslim MPs’ positions and that views expressed in their recent letter directly contradict the positions taken by many of the very same MPs, publicly, on 11 July 2019, in Parliament, when 12 Muslim MPs agreed that 18 would be the minimum age of marriage without exceptions; that the positions of Quazi and marriage registrar be open to Muslim women; that maintenance be decided by the regular courts; and that Quazis would have a minimum professional qualification of Attorney-at-Law.

“The new recommendations also contradict the endorsement by 13 Muslim MPs of the positions submitted by the predominantly male Muslim Civil Society Alliance, including the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) to the Ministry of Justice, on 18 November 2022. Again, there was agreement that the minimum age of marriage be 18 years that women may be appointed as Quazi, that signature of wali (guardian) be optional, thereby not invalidating a marriage simply because the wali does not sign, and that Quazis have at minimum the qualification of Attorney-at-Law. It appears that the Muslim MPs’ recent change of heart and mind has been facilitated by highly-private, exclusive deliberations that took place between the MPs and the ACJU in June 2023,” MPLRAG said.

They said the extremely conservative and discriminatory positions taken by the Muslim MP signatories undermine decades of work of women activists working under the harshest of conditions to bring to light the serious and harmful injustices that have occurred under the cover of the MMDA.

It also dismisses the work of six state-appointed committees of experts spanning a period of over 60 years. “The failure to respond to the real issues affecting the intimate lives of Muslim citizens is a reflection of narrow political self-interests rather than the wellbeing of Muslim communities. It is a disservice to the representative responsibility the MPs bear, especially to those most affected and suffering injustice, who are still waiting for relief,” MPLRAG said.

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