Activist: Boldly look at shariah, civil laws to solve child marriage

Suriana Welfare Society Malaysia chairman James Nayagam. (Facebook pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Child marriages and childcare issues can only be resolved by taking a bold look at the dual legal system in the country, a human rights activist said today.

James Nayagam, the chairman of Suriana Welfare Society Malaysia, said the civil and shariah systems needed to be examined and a common and acceptable stand taken on such issues.

In a statement, he said he had sat at meetings where people were afraid to raise these matters because they touched on religion.

Nayagam, a former commissioner of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission or Suhakam, was commenting on the public reaction to the marriage of an 11-year-old girl to a 41-year-old man, and the death of a five-month-old child.

Rubber tapper Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid ignited debate on child marriage when he married 11-year-old Masaryu Mat Rashid last month.

The childcare case meanwhile involves five-month-old Adam Rayqal Mohd Sufi whose body was found stuffed in the freezer of a refrigerator in his babysitter’s home in Taman Nakhoda, Batu Caves.

Nayagam said he had been dealing with such cases for the past 30 years in various groups involved with child protection, including the Council For Child Protection and the Advisory Council on Child Welfare.

Noting that Malaysia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995 to protect children, he said the fact that child marriages were still happening raised doubts about the effectiveness of government action plans.

“In my opinion, we really need to admit the real reasons why the situation persists. In the matter of underage marriage, we need to examine the dual legal system in our country and decide on what would be the common and acceptable stand on various issues, bearing in mind the best interests of the child.”

The way forward, he said, was to have more dialogue on the two legal systems and to reach a common understanding.

“Where it concerns the daily care of children, the fact remains that over 2,000 childcare centres remain unregistered.

“Over the years, various attempts have been made to address this situation, including setting up child creches at the workplace, but implementation has not been very successful. Childcare has to be a communal affair.”

He suggested that, as in Singapore, affordable centres managed by the authorities be set up in housing estates.

“In Singapore, working parents leave their children in these centres which are well equipped and manned by trained staff.”

He also called on government agencies, especially the women, family and community development ministry, to “take note of the actual situation before issuing media statements to announce their proposals for solving the problems”.