Sri Lankan social media users misled by satirical ‘polygamy bill’ | #socialmedia

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An image has circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp in Sri Lanka alongside a claim it shows a “draft bill legalising polygamy for men” in the island nation. Comments from some social media users indicated they believed the document was genuine. However, multiple government agencies in Sri Lanka told AFP the document — which has the hallmarks of satire — is “fake”.

The image was posted here on Facebook on December 20, 2021.

It shows a Sinhala-language document titled: “Draft bill / Legalising the ability for a man to commit to two marriages”.

Screenshot of the Facebook post captured on December 20, 2021

The purported bill reads: “Statistics of human population growth indicate that population of women has outgrown the population of men. As a result, a large number of women have been deprived of the chance to be married. This bill aims to reassure women’s right to enter married life and facilitate it through regulations.”

It claims the bill was drafted by the “Minister of Women and Infrastructure Development” on November 19, 2021.

Once enacted, the purported bill says it would allow a Sri Lankan man “to marry two women, but a woman cannot marry two men”.

Similar images showing the same purported bill were also shared on Facebook here and here, and were circulated widely on WhatsApp.

“The state this country has fallen to, after this set of idiots were elected into power!” one commenter wrote in response to the image.

Another said: “Has this been approved?? How is this a priority?” 

Polygamy is currently illegal in Sri Lanka — a country with a predominantly Buddhist population — but it is permitted in certain cases for Muslim citizens.

The Sri Lankan cabinet agreed to ban polygamy in July 2021 as part of proposed changes to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act — but parliament has to vote on the amendment before it becomes law.

However, the posts are false, multiple officials told AFP.

“This is a complete fabrication and is fake,” a spokesperson for the ministry that oversees women’s affairs in Sri Lanka said. “No such decision nor plan was made, and never will be.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice — which oversees the drafting of all legislation in the country —  also said the document was “fake”.

AFP found no announcement about legalising polygamy for Sri Lankan men in the government’s list of cabinet decisions published between November 23 and December 20, 2021.

Satirical style

The Sinhala-language text of the purported bill is written in informal language, which is not characteristic of legislative documents in Sri Lanka.

One line reads; “Are you happy now?” — indicating the text likely originated as satire.

The text also claims the proposal was submitted by the “Minister of Women and Infrastructure Development”.

In fact, the formal title for the ministry overseeing women’s affairs is; “State Ministry of Women and Child Development, Pre-Schools and Primary Education, School Infrastructure and Education Services”.

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