PETALING JAYA: The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has joined the outrage in Malaysia after a picture of a marriage ceremony between a 41-year-old man and a 11-year-old girl made the rounds on social media, renewing an age-old debate on child marriage.
“If true, it is shocking and unacceptable,” said Unicef’s Malaysia representative Marianne Clark-Hattingh. “It is not in the best interests of the child. It is a violation of her rights.
She repeated calls for the law to be amended, saying the new Pakatan Harapan government should make it a priority to ensure the legal age for marriage is set at 18 “without exception”.
Clark-Hattingh said only last week, 50 civil society organisations, including Unicef, issued a statement calling for immediate action on child marriages.
She said based on the 2000 Malaysian census, there were 6,800 girls and 4,600 boys under the age of 15 who were married. The more recent 2010 census did not include comparable data.
In Malaysia, there were 6,246 Muslim child marriage applications and 2,775 cases of non-Muslim child marriages between 2010 and 2015.
The current legal age for marriage under civil law is 18, while shariah courts are empowered to allow Muslim marriages at 16 or younger.
In her reaction, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail she had asked the Welfare Services Department to investigate the matter.
Wan Azizah, who is also the women, family and community development minister, said a thorough investigation would be conducted “because it involves the state Syariah Enactment”.
“We also have to look into why it happened. Was it caused by poverty, education, family issues or other problems,” she said.
According to reports, the photo on social media was believed to have been posted by one of the wives of the man who took the girl as his third wife.
The man, who has six children from his two wives, is believed to be a rubber tapper, while the girl is from southern Thailand.
He said the girl would continue to stay with her parents, adding that his marriage was just a “nikah gantung” (suspended marriage).
He said he consulted “learned people” in Thailand before marrying the girl.