Underage marriage: Consult NGOs, Marina tells Wan Azizah

Social activist Marina Mahathir.

KUALA LUMPUR: Prominent social activist Marina Mahathir has called on the government to ensure an absolute ban on any marriage under the age of 18 for both males and females in the country.

She said Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail needs to be clearer in addressing the matter concerning underage marriage.

“It is better now that she has clarified that she is against child marriage.

“But what we would like to see is an absolute total ban on any marriage under 18 for both genders.

“The child marriages seem to be happening among poor families in Kelantan.

“The source of the problem is poverty and that needs to be tackled because wherever you have the poverty problem, we have child marriages.

“And the child marriage itself perpetuates poverty,” she told reporters at Universiti Malaya today.

A 15-year-old girl was married to a 44-year-old widower in July in Tumpat after the shariah court gave permission.

Wan Azizah, who had received flak for saying that the marriage was established by mutual consent, today reiterated that she was against child marriage and does not condone it.

Wan Azizah, who is also women, family and community development minister, had said the government would amend the laws to raise the marriageable age for girls from 16 to 18.

In her statement today, she reiterated the pledge, adding that marriage should not be used as a way out of poverty.

News of the girl’s marriage came three months after the uproar caused by another underage marriage, in which a 41-year-old rubber dealer, also in Kelantan, took an 11-year-old girl as his third wife.

Marina said Wan Azizah should consult all the women’s groups which are vocal on the issue.

She said these groups had all the arguments against child marriage, from the legal, human rights and religious point of views.

“We will be able to give her all the justification to raise the age limit to at least 18.”

Marina also said there needs to be a holistic approach in dealing with the issue.

Yesterday, minister in charge of Islamic affairs Mujahid Yusof Rawa had reminded shariah court judges handling underage marriages to follow the standard operating procedures (SOP) approved at the Shariah Judge’s Conference two months ago.

Mujahid said according to the SOP, family background checks are required, including psychological and health assessments.

“Only then can the shariah judge make a decision. The guidelines clearly state that poverty cannot be used as an excuse to allow an underage marriage,” he said.

“We are also considering setting the age limit at 18 years for both men and women in granting permission for underage marriages.”