PETALING JAYA: Sisters in Islam today called for an immediate ban on child marriage in Malaysia for all children, Muslim and non-Muslim, with no exceptions.
The NGO said there was no acceptable circumstance which could allow child marriage to take place in the country, given Malaysia’s ambitions for comprehensive and inclusive socio-economic progress and modernity.
“It is therefore imperative that the government is seen to lead a cultural and social mind shift in order to ensure complete eradication of child marriage,” it said in a statement issued by its communications manager Majidah Hashim.
“For as long as the government refuses to take quick strong action on moral issues such as child marriage, there will be people who will continue to suffer as a consequence.
“Marriage is a religious and social responsibility that demands the ability and willingness of both husband and wife to bear its responsibilities, so it is not right to apply this burden to children.”
The debate on underage marriage was renewed following reports that 41-year-old Kelantan rubber tapper Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid had married 11-year-old Masaryu Mat Rashid last month.
Che Abdul Karim defended his action saying he had received the blessing of the girl’s parents.
He said his other two wives had also accepted his marriage to Masaryu, and that he would formalise the marriage by applying for a marriage certificate after five years, when his “wife” turns 16.
The current legal age for marriage under civil law is 18, while shariah courts are empowered to allow Muslim marriages at 16 or younger.
Majidah said a Sisters in Islam publication, written in collaboration with Asian Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women, had found that nearly 153,000 persons below the age of 19 were married in Malaysia, mostly from the Malay Muslim community, based on figures from the 2010 population census.
Of the number, 80,000 were girls and the remaining were boys.
While poverty is the perpetuating factor for child marriage in many parts of the world, the main drivers of child marriage in Malaysia are religious conservatism, patriarchal beliefs and reasons of sexual impropriety.
Majidah said a recent joint report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and Al-Azhar University in Egypt declared that “child marriage is no more than a custom; it is not part of shariah or worship and it leads without doubt to significant adverse effects”.
The report also recommended that the preferred age of marriage be over 18 years old.
Majidah noted that many Muslim-majority countries had raised the minimum age of marriage.
These include Algeria (19 for both men and women), Bangladesh (18 for women and 21 for men), Morocco (18 for both men and women) and Turkey (which raised the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 for women).