New SOP soon for shariah judges before allowing underage marriage

PETALING JAYA: The government says it is more inclined towards standardising the procedures for shariah judges nationwide in addressing the problem of Muslim child brides, after a call for a blanket law to ban child marriages at the federal level.

Fuziah Salleh.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh said the problem was complex and made difficult by the nature of Islamic laws in the country.

“My ministry agrees that child marriages bring more harm than good, that’s why we are developing an SOP for shariah judges in approving an underaged marriage with the utmost goal of protecting the child’s wellbeing,” Fuziah, who is in charge of Islamic affairs, told FMT.

She said despite the government’s Islamic experts stating that child marriages brought more harm than good, implementing the advice was still left to the respective states, where Malay rulers have the powers to formulate Islamic enactments.

In 2014, a fatwa consultative committee (Muzakarah) from the National Council for Islamic Affairs advised state Islamic authorities to tighten the rules on underage marriage, saying such marriages were neither in the interest of the children nor encouraged by Islam.

The current minimum legal age of marriage for a Muslim is 16, but shariah judges are empowered to lower the age based on individual cases.

The issue of child marriage was thrust into the limelight after a 41-year-old man married an 11-year-old Thai girl in Kelantan, sparking calls for a ban on the practice.

G25 said federal authorities should take the lead in banning such marriages, and questioned Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail for “passing the buck” to the Muzakarah committee to press states to ban underage marriage through shariah enactments.

Health checks, parents’ background

Fuziah said once a “comprehensive SOP” was implemented by end of the year, stringent procedures would be in place before a shariah judge could allow a child to tie the knot.

She said the procedures would include physical, psychological and emotional health checks.

“The SOP also includes determining the reasons for marriage, and the financial status of the child’s parents.

“We don’t want parents to agree simply due to poverty.”

She said the Shariah Courts Judicial Department (JKSM) would have to ensure that all shariah judges comply with the SOP.

“If a judge doesn’t give his permission for an underage marriage according to the SOP, then the child cannot be married.”

G25: Make child marriage federal crime, not fatwa