Bar: Set up child commission answerable to Parliament

Malaysian Bar president George Varughese says the large number of child marriage applications is a wake-up call on the gravity of the problem. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar has called for the setting up of a child commission that reports directly to Parliament with powers to address the issue of child marriages and other matters pertaining to children.

Its president George Varughese said the commission, to be headed by a child commissioner, must tackle inadequacies in the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 while also addressing the lack of care and treatment in the juvenile justice system.

It must also help put in place a system of accountability for the various agencies in dealing with children’s issues.

He said the Bar welcomed Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s statement yesterday that the recent marriage of a 41-year-old man to an 11-year-old girl was unlawful, and that it was time to increase the minimum age for marriage for girls from 16 to 18.

Wan Azizah is also the women, family and community development minister,

“It is troubling that child marriages, for both Muslims and non-Muslims, are not rare in Malaysia,” Varughese said in a statement today.

He said there were 10,240 child marriage applications submitted to the Shariah Judiciary Department between 2005 and 2015, while there were 7,719 marriage applications for non-Muslim girls between the ages of 16 and 18 from 2000 to 2014.

“These alarming statistics are unacceptable and should serve as a wake-up call as to the gravity of the issue,” Varughese said.

“All matters and decisions taken concerning a child must bear the child’s best interests as paramount,” he said, adding that the government should review all relevant laws relating to child marriages.

Varughese said the government needed to take proactive measures to increase public awareness of the detrimental effects of marriage on a child’s physical and mental health, as well as on her educational and economic opportunities, and the risk of domestic and sexual abuse that she faced.

He also said the Child Act 2001, enacted to fulfil Malaysia’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, defined a child as a person under 18 years.

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