The price of marriage makes land out of reach in Sri Lanka


The custom of paying the dowry with the property pushes up the prices of land and indebted many families, according to civil activists

By Shihar Aneez

SAINTHAMARUTHU, Sri Lanka, December 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It was another day of agony for Rizeena, as she waited with her family at their home in eastern Sri Lanka to meet another potential husband for her sister – the 46th time they’ve tried to find someone to marry her in the past decade.

Most of these meetings only last a few minutes before Rizeena’s parents have to explain that they cannot afford to offer her 35-year-old sister, Fathima, a home in their hometown of Sainthamaruthu, 350 km (217 miles) from the capital Colombo.

“The first question the families of the newlyweds have is whether (she) will receive a dowry house and when we say we are trying to buy one, they are leaving,” said Rizeena, who, like her sister, did not wish to give his real name. .

“We just can’t afford it. It’s very expensive,” the mother-of-three said from the entrance hall of her house, which her parents gave her as a dowry.

On Sri Lanka’s east coast, land with a house is a must-see for Muslim women of marrying age, but civilian activists say the custom of the dowry is causing land prices to skyrocket, leaving many women behind. without a partner or future financial security.

The dowry is an inevitable devil in this culture, ”said Minnathul Suheera, women’s rights activist and lecturer in sociology at the University of South East Sri Lanka.

“For an average middle class family, it is very difficult to get a huge loan to buy the land and house as a dowry,” she said, adding that the practice of paying the dowry is. the root cause of rising land prices in the region.

“This is a complex issue that no one wants to tackle. A lot of people are in debt for buying land and houses as a dowry. There is very little chance of compromising the dowry,” Suheera said.


Land is in high demand along the overpopulated eastern coastal region of Sri Lanka, where the latest government data shows some villages have over 100,000 people per km².

A perch, or 25 square meters, of land in Sainthamaruthu would have sold 50,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($ 270) 10 years ago, according to Hasmy Jaya, land agent at the divisional secretariat of Sainthamaruthu.

Today, the same land can cost 800,000 rupees ($ 4,300), he said.

Such high prices put land out of reach for many families in the region, leaving them with little to pay as a dowry to potential suitors for their daughters.

Locals explained that a large number of women in the area do not pursue higher education, so they cannot find jobs and depend on marriage to support themselves.

And working women are expected to find more skilled husbands than they do, which means their parents will need more land and bigger houses to offer as a dowry.

Kaleelur Rahman, a civil society activist at the People Action Council in the coastal town of Kalmunai, said women who cannot afford to marry usually end up (financially) dependent on their parents.

“Once their parents die, they will depend on their loved ones,” Rahman said.


The populations of the eastern coast of Sri Lanka continue to grow, putting increased pressure on the amount of land available.

There are currently around 30,000 people living in Sainthamaruthu, according to local government data, a almost 18% increase since the last census in 2012.

As a result, the size of land for each family has fallen to a third of what it was ten years ago, said MAM Rafi, another land agent in Ampara district.

“A single house on a 10 perch (250m²) plot ten years ago has now grown into a small settlement with many houses and many families,” he said.

Local civil rights activists say another factor behind the surge in land prices is that professionals abroad, mainly in the Middle East, are buying land as a dowry for their sisters and daughters.

In the coastal village of Akkaraipattu, for example, for three families, a member works as an expatriate in the Middle East, according to the civil society group Human Elevation Organization (HEO).

“They can afford and buy a lot of land with the money. This has created a (monopoly) in the land market and made the prices really unaffordable for others,” said Nihal Ahamed, CEO of HEO.

Mr Sameem, a former expat who worked in Qatar, said rising prices make the land a safe place for those working overseas to put their money.

“Expats first buy land for female family members, to give it as a dowry, and then they see it as a better investment than keeping the money in savings or fixed income,” he explained. .

Siraj Mashoor, a political activist and former Akkaraipattu adviser, said authorities failed to address the dowry issue because they did not see it as a problem.

“There is no government dowry policy because it is seen as justifiable by many in society,” he said.

The Ministry of Lands did not respond to requests for comment.


In the town of Kalmunai, Mohamed Razik, 54, father of two, has struggled to finish his 75 m² house since 2005.

The house is intended for her only daughter, who is 28 and has been waiting to get married for more than a decade. Until this is over, they have no dowry to offer, Razik said.

The problem, he noted, is that he cannot expand the house because there is no land to buy.

“They (the suitors) are all asking for a house on six poles (150m²) of land. But I can’t afford it,” said Razik, who earns just over a dollar a day at his food stall. .

He said he needed another million Sri Lankan rupees ($ 5,380) just to finish the ground floor of the house.

“As for the land and the dowry, no one wants to talk about it and it has become a taboo subject in this community,” he lamented.

“I used all my savings over the past 15 years to build this house. But it just became impossible.”

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($ 1 = 185.9000 Sri Lankan rupees) (Reporting by Shihar Aneez, edited by Jumana Farouky and Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

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