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Sri Lanka – Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance Ordinance (Jaffna), Ordinance No. 1 of 1911

  • Country: Sri Lanka
  • Law status: Discriminatory law in force
  • Law Type: Inheritance and Property

Sex discrimination in economic status laws restricts women from being economically independent, limiting access to inheritance and property ownership as well as to employment opportunities, thereby reinforcing gender stereotypes and roles.

Laws which restrict the right of married women to own and dispose of their property freely restrict their economic independence.

The Law:

Section 6 of Sri Lanka’s Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance Ordinance (Jaffna), Ordinance No. 1 of 1911 restricts a married woman from disposing of and dealing with her own immovable property, such as land, without the written consent or her husband.

Section 6. All movable or immovable property to which any woman married after the commencement of this Ordinance may be entitled at the time of her marriage, or which she may during the subsistence of the marriage acquire or become entitled to by way of gift or inheritance or by conversion of any property to which she may have been so entitled or which she may so acquire or become entitled to, shall, subject and without prejudice to the trusts of any will or settlement affecting the same, belong to the woman for her separate estate …..Such woman shall, subject and without prejudice to any such trusts as aforesaid, have as full power of disposing of and dealing with such property by any lawful act inter vivos without the consent of the husband in case of movables, or with his written consent in the case of immovables, but not otherwise, or by last will without consent, as if she were unmarried.

Note: The provisions of the Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance Ordinance (Jaffna), included the discriminatory section 6 highlighted above apply only to the Tamil community to whom the customary Tesawalamai law applies. 

Article 12 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka: (1) All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. (2) No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any one of such grounds. 

However, the equality guarantee in Article 12 does not apply to the Matrimonial Rights and Inheritance Ordinance due to Article 16 of the Constitution: (1) All existing written law and unwritten law shall be valid and operative notwithstanding any inconsistency with the preceding provisions of this Chapter (which includes Article 12), as the Ordinance came into effect before the Constitution.

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