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MMDA amendments: Draft bill to Cabinet next month

MMDA amendments: Draft bill to Cabinet next month

19 Mar 2023 | By Skandha Gunasekara

  • Some issues yet to be fully resolved: Wasantha Perera
  • MPLRAG calls for expediting reforms; urges Cabinet and MPs to support

Following the official release of the committee report on the proposed reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), the Government hopes to present a draft bill to the Cabinet of Ministers by next month.

On 19 June 2021, the Advisory Committee appointed by then Justice Minister Ali Sabry to recommend Muslim law reform submitted its report to the Ministry of Justice. 

The committee consisted of five practising lawyers, one academic lawyer, and three religious scholars (one of whom is the ACJU Secretary General and another Government official responsible for Muslim religious affairs).

The members of the committee were Shabry Haleemdeen (Chair), S.M.M. Yaseen, M.A.M. Hakeem, Safana Gul Begum, Ermiza Tegal, Naamiq Nafath, A.B.M. Ashraf, Sheikh Arkam Nooramith, and Sheikh Muiz Bukhary.

Last week the Ministry of Justice officially released the report of the committee. According to the report, the committee has unanimously agreed on several recommendations regarding the Sri Lankan MMDA.


Firstly, the introduction of marriage registration as a legal requirement to take place immediately following the nikah has been proposed. 

Secondly, brides are now permitted to sign and consent to marriage. Prenuptial agreements, a recognised Islamic tradition, may also be entered into by couples. In the event of divorce, dowry and any other transactions of money or property exchanged at the time of marriage can be recovered by the party who gave the property. Property acquired during the marriage will also be fairly distributed at the time of divorce.

The committee recognises mutual-consent divorce and the importance of prioritising children’s affairs during divorce cases. Mata’a or alimony, will also be recognised. The signature of a wali or guardian will not be mandatory on the registration document. Maintenance orders must be based on criteria that ensure adequate maintenance is paid. Women are also now allowed to hold official positions, including as marriage registrars, adjudicators, or conciliators. The MMDA can be used if one party or both parties are Sri Lankan.

The committee has also proposed reforms to the community-based quazi system, subjecting it to proper supervision mechanisms to ensure qualified and trained persons adjudicate. 

If the quazi system is abolished, elements of the community-based mechanism will be retained as conciliators. These conciliators will handle consensual divorce applications. 

If there are contested cases that require a judicial decision, these cases will be taken to the District Court. Until dedicated family courts are established, the District Court will be the proper forum.

Division within committee

However, there is division within the committee on certain issues.

The female members do not believe that the formal signature of the wali on the marriage registration form is required, whereas the male members believe it should be an option. 

Legal representation before the adjudicator has also been debated, with some members believing it should be permitted and others opposing it.

The female members do not believe a reconciliation process prior to divorce should be made mandatory, whereas the male members believe it should be. Finally, the female and male members have proposed two different formulations to define the iddat or waiting period observed by women after the end of a marriage. 

MPLRAG welcomes report

The Muslim Personal Law Reform Action Group (MPLRAG) has welcomed the public release of the report of the Advisory Committee on Recommendations to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) in Sri Lanka.

“MPLRAG welcomes the public release of the report of the Advisory Committee on Recommendations to the MMDA. The transparency and accessibility of the MMDA reform process is an important step towards ensuring that the key areas of discrimination under the MMDA are addressed in the amendments,” said MPLRAG Co-Founder Hyshyama Hamin.

MPLRAG has urged the Ministry of Justice to expedite MMDA reforms and for the Cabinet and all Members of Parliament to support and advocate for these changes as soon as possible. 

“The fact that there is a Muslim family law with such unjust and harmful provisions in 2023 is absolutely unacceptable. The negative impacts on Muslim women and girls have only increased during the pandemic and economic crisis, so MMDA reform is an urgent matter relevant to our current context.”

MPLRAG believes that the amendments proposed by the Advisory Committee are reforms that can be supported by all Muslim communities of Sri Lanka. 

“We have no doubt that these reforms will benefit the well-being and welfare of Sri Lankan Muslim communities. It will ensure that Muslims women are recognised as equal citizens worthy of justice, dignity, and equality in Sri Lanka, and also secure a just Islamic family law for all Sri Lankan Muslims.”

Some issues yet to be resolved

Meanwhile, Ministry of Justice Secretary Wasantha Perera said that while everybody in the committee had unanimously agreed on matters such as the minimum age of marriage and the requirement of the consent of the woman to enter into a marriage, some issues had not been fully resolved.

“The committee that was appointed by the Minister still wants some discussions, until we reach consensus on certain issues. The Minister has requested the Legal Draftsman to draft a bill and it is currently in the process of being drafted. The contentious issues are the matters of polygamy and the quazi courts. The Legal Draftsman wants to meet with the committee to finalise the contentious points, so the Ministry is facilitating the meetings between the committee and the Legal Draftsman’s Department.”

To Cabinet in April?

She said the Ministry hoped to present the bill to the Cabinet by April. “Once the draft bill is ready, it will go to the Attorney General for the certification of constitutionality, after which it will be presented to Cabinet. We are following it closely and expect that it will be presented to Cabinet by next month. We want to do this as early as possible.”

The procedure thereafter will be for the Cabinet to give the green light for the bill to be presented in Parliament, where it will be debated on and then enacted into law. 

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