Hiichiikok Foundation’s stand on: Child marriage

In 2012, there were around 1,165 applications for marriage in which the bride-to-be was a child; the Syariah Courts approved 1,022 of them. As of May 2013, Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Department (JKSM) received 600 underage marriage applications, of which 446 had been approved. In Malaysia, girls under the age of 16 cannot legally drive or buy cigarettes. They can’t even watch certain movies or go clubbing. But they can marry lawfully, and many are increasingly doing so. Crucially, exceptions can be made for girls or boys to marry at a much younger age as long as they obtain Islamic courts’ consent.

Sisters in Islam said it was shocking that child marriage still existed in the country because of loopholes in the marriage laws and a continuing belief that girls should be married off once they reached puberty. They also strongly stand by the UN findings that child marriage is harmful to children and girls. In particular, the girls are vulnerable to abuse, prone to health problems, have difficulties in accessing education, and have lost their childhood and adolescence years. The risks to the physical health of girls who marry and conceive too young often cause underage girls to die of maternal health complications.

Although the numbers suggest that it is a common practice among Muslims as well as indigenous communities; child marriage is also prevalent amongst the Indian and Chinese communities. Although the legal minimum marriage age is 18, Non-Muslims girls can be married as early as 16 provided they or their parents have the permission of the State’s Chief Minister. A United Nations report showed that over 82,000 married women in Malaysia were girls between the ages of 15 and 19. In fact in 2010, the then Deputy Minister for Woman, Family and Community Development, Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun, revealed that nearly 16,000 girls below the age of 15 were in a marriage.

Unwanted pregnancies contribute to the prevalence of child marriage in Malaysia. Religious beliefs as well as the taboo around sex outside of marriage play a major role too. When asked why parents consented to their daughter’s marriage, they often explain that these girls are “too wild” and beyond control and that marriage was the best solution to protect them from themselves. In poorer communities, many girls make the sacrifice of getting married at a young age to ensure their families’ economic survival.

Efforts must be taken to provide genuine alternatives and life-saving choices to these young people. Malaysia’s adoption of a United Nations resolution to end child, early and forced marriage at the Human Rights Council on the 27th September 2013 could not be more timely. Calls for banning child marriages have been ringing loud in the last few years, but not much has been done about it as many see it as a religious and cultural issue.

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