Today is International Day of the Girl Child
marriage in Sri Lanka : A 2% too much
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, accounting 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.
With research on Post-War Trends in Child Marriage in Sri Lanka by
FOKUS WOMEN and the Ministry of Child Affairs, here is some helpful
information on the situation in Sri Lanka - the how and why.
How young is too young?
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
Here is 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 there is the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), which
doesn't specify a minimum age for marriage.
Causes for child marriage in Sri Lanka
During the 27-year civil war, parents in the war affected areas gave
their children, especially the girl child, in marriage to prevent forced
recruitment by the LTTE. It was believed that the LTTE would not
forcibly recruit 'married girls' for battle.
As the war raged on, many families were displaced. While settled in
IDP camps, families adopted customs from other communities and the lack
of access to education, as well as vocational opportunities, pressured
parents into giving their young girls in marriage for their protection.
The inmates weren't the only predators parents had to protect their
daughters from; there were the security forces as well.
The report states, 'Fear of sexual violence by security forces in IDP
camps, trafficking of children for prostitution and sexual exploitation
was yet another reason for child marriage during the conflict'.
Six years after the guns fell silent, the incidences of child
marriage has not dissipated. Why? Because most families in the conflict
affected continue to follow marriage practices adopted during the war;
they have almost become customs.
The report elaborates, 'families continue to live post war in the
same psychological state without aim or plan for the future.
Since most parents married underage during the conflict and were
school drop-outs they are not opposed to marrying their children
underage as well.
As there is social recognition in marriage, parents feel their
child's security is guaranteed by marriage. They are unable find or
think of alternative ways of securing their child's future'. Other
issues that lead to child marriage include, poverty - one of the more
dominant factors as parents give their daughter in marriage early to
ease their own economic burden, a post war policy that overlooks
psychosocial assistance to families to emerge from conflict, 'love
affairs' - shotgun weddings to preserve the family honour, adolescent
teenage pregnancy and little or no awareness of sexual and reproductive
What's so terrible about child marriage?
Compared to other South Asian countries Sri Lanka is far better when
it comes to child marriages, but we have a lot do before we can bring it
to a complete halt.
While the incidences are at a low 2 percent, the impact of child
marriage is not only felt by the girl child given in marriage, but her
children as well in terms of health, care, and psychological effects -
brought about by domestic violence and the lack of proper caring (as
young girls are not mentally and physically prepared to take on a
The impacts are felt generation after generation and they undoubtedly
have an adverse effect on society.
The FOKUS report lists out ways in which child marriage can be
tackled in Sri Lanka.
Give it a read for more information on child marriage in Sri Lanka
and how we can fight it
(Megara Tegal is a staff writer at roar.lk, which
originally published this article, a photography enthusiast and as she
calls herself, a "small-fry activist". When not trying to save the
world, she can be found eating ice cream or talking to herself
animatedly; occasionally at the same time)