Malaysian child marriages disconcerting

In the most recent statistics according to the 2000 Population and Housing Census , 6,800 children under the age of 15 were married in Malaysia. About 250 children between the ages of 10 and 14 were widowed and 77 of them were divorced or permanently separated.

Non-Muslims in Malaysia can marry when they reach the age of 18 although non-Muslim females may marry between the ages of 16 and 18 if they have the permission of the Chief Minister in their state.

For Muslims the minimum age for marriage is 16 for females and 18 for males. Those below the stipulated age can marry as long they have the consent of the parents and the Syariah Court.

UNIC EF defines child marriage as a formal marriage or union before 18 years of age.

A UN Country Gender Theme Group report states that in 2011 the Syariah Court approved about 900 marriages in which one party was lower than the legal marrying age.

The UN Report included Malaysian Census data showing that in 2010, 1.4 percent of married women or more than 82,000 women, were 15-19, up from 1.2 percent or 53,000 in 2001.

The reasons for early marriage listed are: to avoid pre-marital sex which is not permitted in Islam, to avoid being arrested for khalwat , an Islamic offence in which men and women are found in  “close proximity and coercion by family members and pregnancy.

According to a UN report, around the world, more than 14 million girls under the age of 18 will be married each year during the next decade and the number could increase to more than 15 million between 2021 and 2030.

As the number of young married females grows, the number of children bearing children will increase, along with deaths among girls, it added.

Early marriage often leads to early departure from school, economic dependency and difficulty finding work outside the home.

According to international conventions, child marriage is a violation of fundamental human rights.

However, child marriage is legally permitted in Malaysia.

In the report on the status of children’s rights in Malaysia launched by The Child Rights Coalition Malaysia (CRCM) last month, early marriage impacts the girl child negatively.

It also threatens the rights of both the child-mother and her child to life, survival and development.

CRCM recognises that motherhood at a very young age can result in complications during pregnancy and delivery, resulting in a higher risk of maternal health.

It adds that children of young mothers also are at risk of higher levels of morbidity and mortality.

There was a big commotion when we heard about the 14 year old school girl and the 23 year old man.

There was another commotion when reports about the Kelantanese who married an 11-year old girl surfaced recently.

NGOs such as Sisters in Islam condemn this and it is sad to learn that while we are striving to achieve Vision 2020, such a practice still lurks in our society.

Voice of the Children (VoC), a Child Rights group in KL, has called on the government to outlaw child marriage.

VoC chairperson Sharmila Sekaharan claims that,” There has been research done which shows that children at the age of 12 are not sufficiently mature to understand their role within a marriage and certainly in terms of becoming parents; they themselves are still children.”

The question remains, when will relevant authorities take heed the hue and cry against child brides?


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