KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has a high rate of child marriages, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) representative in Malaysia, Marianne Clark-Hattingh.
Speaking at a public forum here today, Clark-Hattingh pointed out that the 2010 Malaysian census states that 82,000 girls and 73,000 boys were married.
She said that the figure may not be an accurate representation and that the number may be higher since not all marriages are registered.
“So this is an extensive problem here, maybe more so than in some other countries but to have even one case of child marriage is wrong,” she said.
She said that one of the problems that results from child marriages is that it curbs rights to education especially among girls, who end up dropping out from schools.
This, she said, perpetuates an internal struggle of poverty, which results in a cycle of child marriages because the lack of education also prompts one into child marriage.
She claimed that most women who married as children end up having children who do the same.
“Education is key in ensuring that child marriages no longer occur,” she said.
She said that steps that could be taken to end child marriages were: to empower girls with information, skills and support networks; to engage faith-based organisations, parents, men and boys on awareness raising of the harms of early marriage for the child; enhancing accessibility to quality formal schooling and health services; health interventions especially on sexual and reproductive health; conditional or unconditional cash transfers targeting poor families; setting and enforcing age limits for marriage; and supporting girls who are pregnant or children who are already married with options for schooling, livelihood skills and reproductive health and counseling services.
Another speaker, Kelab Warisan Wibawa co-founder Nik Elin Zurina Nik Abd Rashid said among the factors that contributed to child marriages were culture, societal pressures where young people are pressured into getting married to avoid premarital sex, religious prohibitions on promiscuity, love, wanting to be free from their parents, and a lack of sexual education among others.
She said that these children end up in stressful conditions after marriage because they do not understand what marriage entails.
“They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into,” she said. “They don’t know the responsibilities that come with marriage and some of them don’t even know how sex works and end up getting pregnant before they know it.”
A lecturer with the Institut Perguruan Tinggi Ilmu Al-Quran in Jakarta, Dr Nur Rofiah, said that in Indonesia culture and tradition play a huge part in contributing to child marriages.
“Women in Indonesia believe that if you reject a proposal, another may not come along,” she said.
She also said that there is a tradition in Indonesia where men kidnap these younger girls, bring them to their houses and then propose to them later. “If you reject the proposal then you are seen as unclean whether you have or have not had sex with the man.”