Child marriages expose ‘loophole’ in Child Sexual Crime bill

PETALING JAYA: A Singapore daily has criticised the Child Sexual Crime Bill 2017 in Malaysia, passed in Parliament just one month ago, pointing out that the legislation does not stop child marriages from taking place.

Calling it “a loophole” that has “gone unplugged”, The Independent referred to Malaysian government statistics showing that between 2010 and 2015, there were 6,264 applications for child marriages from Muslims.

A further 2,725 non-Muslim teenage girls also got married, it said.

The report mirrored concerns voiced by the opposition, especially DAP, in the run-up to the tabling of the bill in the Dewan Rakyat.

DAP assistant national publicity secretary Teo Nie Ching has been especially vocal on the issue, repeatedly insisting that a ban on child marriages be included in the bill to address sexual crimes against children.

She said although Section 376 of the Penal Code criminalised sexual intercourse with girls under the age of 16, child marriages still occurred in Malaysia.

She also referred to a 2010 United Nations report that revealed that over 82,000 of the married women in Malaysia were girls between the ages of 15 and 19.

“Malaysia adopted a United Nations resolution to end child marriage at the Human Rights Council in October 2013. It’s time for our government to honour our pledge,” she had said.

The bill to protect children introduces various offences on sexual crime, with a maximum jail sentence of 30 years, a fine of up to RM20,000 and six lashings of the rotan.

It covers seven areas, including child pornography, child grooming, physical and non-physical sexual assault, punishments on offenders in a position of trust (such as a family member or teacher) and witness information extraction from children.

In Malaysia, the age of consent for sex is 16. The legal age of marriage for both genders under civil law is 18 with parental consent, and 21 without.

Girls can marry at 16 with permission from their state’s chief minister. Islamic law meanwhile sets a 16-year age limit for girls while earlier marriages can be made with the consent of a shariah judge.