Ban child marriage among all cultures and religions, Sabah urged

The Sabah government has agreed to set 18 as the minimum age for marriage.

PETALING JAYA: An NGO has urged the Warisan-led Sabah government to ban child marriages for all children aged below 18, irrespective of their cultural or religious backgrounds.

Welcoming the state government’s recent decision to set 18 as the minimum age for marriage for native communities, Sabah-based gender rights group Sawo said preventing children from getting married at an early age was integral to giving them an opportunity to achieve their full potential.

“Protecting the interests of the voiceless and vulnerable groups in our society is a key benchmark of a good government — a vital point that would not go unnoticed by those monitoring the performance of the new government,” Sawo said in a statement.

It said amending the law was the first and easiest step, adding it would help alleviate poverty and strengthen the family unit, “two very important targets towards the sustainable development of the state”.

Sawo said allowing children to marry at an early age and have kids, without the means to provide for them, will just lead to more poverty, socially and economically.

“This is counter-productive to the government’s efforts to bring development to the people,” it said.

It further said that bringing about a change on the ground requires consistent efforts and engagement from the community.

The government must identify how and whom to assist with financial means to facilitate this change, Sawo added.

Earlier this week, the Sabah government agreed to set 18 as the minimum age for marriage.

Sabah Assistant Law and Native Affairs Minister Jannie Lasimbang had said the decision was made following the tabling of a proposal on the minimum age limit for marriage by the women, family and community development ministry at the last Parliament sitting.

“The federal government seeks to amend the constitution to set the minimum age for marriage at 18.

“On the ministry’s side, this change is not something easy to achieve.

“That is why we want the Native Court and all the customary leaders to be proactive in organising programmes involving the grassroots so that this change can be achieved,” she said.

She said children should be free and have the right to enjoy learning as part of their preparation for the future.