GEORGE TOWN: Penang should increase its minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18 under its state Islamic laws to deter child marriages, the state assembly heard today.
However, the opposition maintained that it was the right of Muslim women to marry as long as they reach puberty.
Syerleena Abdul Rashid (DAP-Seri Delima) first raised the matter in her debate, saying there should be no compromise on child marriages and proposed 18 as the minimum age for marriage, following recent news reports of prepubescent girls being married off.
“No buts or ifs. Penang should lead the way in protecting young girls from being married off,” she said when debating the motion of thanks on the governor’s address in the state assembly.
Syerleena also said a call by Tasek Gelugor MP Shabudin Yahaya for rapists to marry their victims was something that needed to be condemned.
However, Penang opposition leader Muhamad Yusoff Mohd Nor (BN-Sungai Dua) said in Islam, “akil baligh” or pubescence was all that was needed for one to get married.
He also defended Shabudin, saying he had merely called on rapists to marry their victims to “avoid embarrassment”, especially when the offence takes place in villages where most people “know each other”.
“But getting married is not a small matter, mind you. You have to get a wali (witness) and a kadi (judge) to agree to the marriage. The victims are not asked to be married in all rape cases.
“Those days, people got married when they were 12 or 13. My mother married when she was 16. Other races got married earlier, too.
“But in this day and age, people rarely get married young. Things have changed,” Yusoff said.
Satees Muniandy (DAP-Bagan Dalam) said the issue of child marriages was not exclusive to Muslims, but also affected the Chinese, Indians and people in Sabah and Sarawak.
But he said he did not agree with Shabudin that rape victims should marry their attackers.
“It is statutory rape for one to marry an underage girl. Selangor has proposed to raise the age of consent for Muslims from 16 to 18. What about Penang?” he asked Yusoff.
Yusoff said he would leave this matter to the authorities to deal with.
Syerleena said any defence that rapists should marry their victims to “tebus malu” (avoid embarrassment) was unacceptable.
“Can you imagine the trauma and mental pressure of the victim, being forced to marry her attacker?”
On Aug 1, the Selangor Islamic Religious Council proposed an amendment to the Islamic Family Law (State of Selangor) Enactment 2003 to increase the marriageable age of women from 16 to 18.