Sri Lankan Women’s Affairs and Child Development Minister Tissa Karaliyadda remarked that female victims should marry the males who sexually assaulted them to reduce the amount of rape in Sri Lanka. If the victim is underage, he suggests that the marriage be postponed until the victim reaches the age of eighteen, the legal age of consent in the country.
Karaliyadda explained to local media that, “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.”
But why would a girl wish to marry the person who sexually assaulted her? Is it because girls who have sex before their marriage will find it extremely difficult to find a husband in the future? Does their society mark them as unclean and force them to atone for the sexual assault? Is marriage the only solution to rid them of their dishonor?
Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has a different viewpoint. He believes that underage female rape victims should not wait until age eighteen to be married. He is quoted saying “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.”
What is most unsettling about Rajapaksa’s quote is not the part about forcing attackers to marry their underage victims, but that sexual activity between a child and an adult can be consensual.
In Sri Lanka, eighteen marks the age of consent, maturity and adulthood. Eighteen-year-olds can legally drive, smoke, drink alcohol and provide consent for sexual activity. The age of consent varies across the globe from twelve in Angola to twenty-one years old in Bahrain.
Rajapaksa’s belief that sexual activity between a child and an adult can be consensual is incorrect. Not only are their brains and bodies not fully developed, most children lack the emotional maturity and awareness to make informed important decisions. This is why statutory rape laws exist. Statutory rape laws are designed to prevent adults from “exploiting the ignorance, the trust, the inexperience and the terror of children.”
Chamal Rajapaksa, current Speaker of the Parliament and also the elder brother of President Rajapaksa, believes that “nobody can make men responsible for the violence against women. Women are responsible for it.” It is exactly this kind of viewpoint that perpetuates gender inequality and sexual assault in societies where women have very little agency. Sexual assault in Sri Lanka and gender equality is not merely a women’s issue, as it affects men, women, boys and girls. Instead of focusing on finding remedies to sexual assault after it has already happened, perhaps officials should attempt to prevent sexual assault in Sri Lanka before they actually take place.