When Sri Lanka’s top gender official suggested that women marry the men who had raped them in order to reduce the number of sexual assaults in the country, he stumbled on a problem: what if the rape survivors are underage?
Tissa Karaliyadda, Sri Lanka’s (male) minister of child development and women’s affairs, suggested rapists would have to wait until their victims reach 18, the legal age of consent for sexual intercourse in the country.
But Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa thinks his minster is just plain wrong, according to reports in local media.
Wait until they’re 18? No way, he suggested on Friday. Marry them now.
“If under aged girls are statutorily raped and the sexual act was however with consent, it may be good to have legislation that allows the perpetrator to marry the ‘victim’ with her consent,” local media quoted Rajapaksa saying.
Their differing approaches were revealed after the the minister had suggested marriage would be a good idea — in language that portrayed the option as a kind of victim-centered justice.
“The idea is to ensure the victim gets justice. If she feels the rapist must marry her for what he did to her, then she must have that option,” Karaliyadda told local media two weeks ago.
Sri Lanka is only the latest country to suggest that marrying the woman you rape annuls the crime you committed. The practice is commonly accepted in Pakistan; neighboring India does not consider rape within marriage a crime, even in its new “tough” anti-rape laws, and rape survivors are routinely pressed to marry their rapists. One such incident, in December, was oddly normalized by one of India’s leading English-language papers.
Morocco recently repealed a similar law when a 16-year-old girl committed suicide after she was forced by the government and her family to marry her rapist. In February, a similar bill in Malawi was dropped only after a raucous local civil society outcry.
Getting married in order to annul rape is the latest in a series of proposals Karaliyadda has made to combat Sri Lanka’s rape problem. A 2013 United Nations study of physical and sexual violence in the Asia-Pacific region found that 16% of Sri Lankan men admitted having raped or attempted to rape a woman at some point in their lives.
After proposals to sentence rapists to death or life imprisonment stalled last year, the gender minister suggested in September that public caning might be a better punishment.
That, apparently, has gone nowhere, leading to his latest suggestion.
In Sri Lanka, one’s marital status is the deciding factor as to whether or not one is the victim of a crime: It’s impossible to rape your wife in Sri Lanka, where marital rape is a crime only if a couple has been officially separated, according to the U.N.
Sri Lanka’s executive branch isn’t its only body of government to take a particularly patriarchal stand on women’s rights issues. Chamal Rajapaksa, the speaker of parliament, thinks it’s women’s responsibility to end violence against women.
“My opinion is that nobody can make men responsible for the violence against women. Women are responsible for it,” he said in March — at an event to mark International Women’s Day.
So far, there’s been no word from either side of the government in Sri Lanka on what to do with all those women who maybe don’t want to marry their rapists.