KUALA LUMPUR: Two NGOs today urged the government to put a stop to child marriages immediately, in the wake of a news report that a 44-year-old man has married a 15-year-old girl.
The Centre for a Better Tomorrow (Cenbet) and Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said the government could not be indecisive any more, warning that such inaction would only embolden paedophiles.
Cenbet vice-president Ng Yeen Seen said it was not too long ago that Malaysians were shocked to learn of a 41-year-old man from Kelantan marrying an 11-year-old child. Now, another case has been reported, also in Kelantan.
The women, family and community development ministry has pledged to develop stricter standard operating procedures (SOP) to standardise the screening process for marriages involving minors.
Saying that the SOP would only perpetuate and preserve child marriages in the country, Ng noted that while the public was waiting for the SOP, another child marriage had taken place.
“Child marriage is a complete violation of a child’s human rights and this is a crime that has been condoned and approved by the shariah courts in Kelantan.
“Why are we legalising and justifying sex with a child? If a child cannot vote at the age of 13 or 15, she is then also incapable of consenting to sex and can also be raped in the act of consummation of the marriage.
“No parents should be allowed to pawn their child’s future and rights away to decide for themselves by consenting to an arranged marriage that is ultimately leading to rape and abuse of her fundamental basic human rights.
“No child is capable of saying ‘no’ to a man much older than her when she is underage.”
Ng said the situation today allowed parents to consent on behalf of the child and this was wrong.
“If you can accept child marriage, then what is stopping us from marrying off baby girls and baby boys? Paedophiles don’t discriminate and differentiate between a baby girl of two years and a girl of 10 years. Where is the limit?”
She said parents might make decisions on behalf of the child under duress or after being goaded by temptation for financial or other gains
“We must protect all children from abusive parents and this is a form of abuse by the parents.
“If we can allow parents to decide for their underage child and marry them away due to whatever justification, then what difference is there for us to also allow and regulate parents to marry off their babies to paedophiles?
“If we have laws in the country to punish irresponsible parents who abuse their child of any age physically, why are we allowing parents to subject their young defenceless child to rape by marriage?” she asked.
‘Licence for paedophiles’
Meanwhile, LFL executive director Latheefa Koya said they were appalled by the response of Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail that Putrajaya was powerless to intervene as such shariah matters came under the state.
“This response from the DPM will be a licence for paedophiles around the country to groom, persuade or coerce children into ‘marriage’ for the purpose of having sexual intercourse with them.
“Instead of claiming that she can do nothing, the DPM must ensure that there is an immediate police investigation into whether sexual grooming, contrary to the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017 (SOAC), has taken place.
“There is a strong basis for a police probe on child grooming as reports state that this child had known the 44-year-old man for ‘several months’ before marriage. There was thus opportunity for grooming to have taken place.
“Any person who follows, watches or contacts a child for sexual purposes has committed the offence of grooming under section 12 of the SOAC 2017.”
Latheefa said the fact that the man later contracted a marriage under the shariah law, did not “absolve him from the crime of grooming”.
“What is clear now is that paedophiles are actively taking advantage of the failure of the DPM to take decisive action in the earlier case of the 11-year-old child bride.”
Latheefa said this had become “an advertisement” to other paedophiles that they could get away with the crime in Malaysia.
“Encouraged by the passivity of the women’s ministry, paedophiles are now clearly using ‘marriage’ as a shield to prevent prosecution for rape or sexual grooming,” Latheefa claimed.