Women’s groups rap PAS man over comments on underage marriage

PETALING JAYA: Women’s rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) has taken a PAS MP to task for his views on teen pregnancy and underage marriage, calling them “irresponsible” and “shortsighted”.

SIS spokesman Majidah Hashim said as an MP, Che Abdullah Mat Nawi should be looking after the interests of children.

She added that his stand against raising the legal age for marriage and on marrying off couples caught for khalwat or close proximity ran contrary to this goal.

“To allow and encourage child marriage means a failure to prioritise what is important to children, which is education. This is quite irresponsible as it jeopardises the child’s health and future,” she told FMT.

Abdullah had said that unmarried couples caught for khalwat should be married off as they would become more responsible after that.

He also said getting married at a young age should not be seen as an obstacle for men and women to further their studies.

However, Majidah said marrying off couples in that manner sent the wrong message that their future was not important.

She added that those who married off their children saying they could not afford to raise them were only perpetuating the problem.

“Without a good education, the children cannot get a good job. If they marry a partner who is also uneducated or has minimal education, both husband and wife will be unable to get proper, high-value jobs which would help them escape the cycle of poverty.”

Majidah also said underage girls lacked the mental and psychological maturity to be responsible mothers, or to choose responsible partners who would help them raise their children.

“We have a lot of cases where the children haven’t reached emotional maturity,” she said.

“As they grow up, their personalities and ambitions may change, and this frustrates their partners, so a lot of these marriages don’t last.”

She also cited a joint report from Unicef and Egypt’s Al-Azhar University which said the preferred age for marriage is 18 years and above.

The report also said that child marriage was a custom and not part of shariah.

Women’s Aid Organisation spokesman Melissa Mohd Akhir also criticised Abdullah, saying he was “ignorant” of the realities and rights of children.

She said the Kelantan government already had a policy on the welfare of children, known as “Dasar Kanak-kanak Fitrah Kelantan” which puts the minimum age for marriage at 18 based on the age of maturity or rusyd.

She added that PAS senator Asmak Hussin had spoken on the policy in the Dewan Negara just last August, even suggesting that emphasis be placed on the couple’s maturity level and their readiness to face hardships in marriage.

She agreed that poverty was a major factor in children being married off and deprived of an education.

“The reality is, it’s almost impossible to find a child who manages to complete his or her SPM examinations while also being a husband or wife.

“We recommend that MPs address the above realities instead of suggesting early marriage, which is an ineffective, Band-Aid suggestion.”

The issue of underage marriages has been widely debated in the media since June last year when a 41-year-old Kelantan man took an 11-year-old girl as his bride.

Putrajaya is pushing to increase the minimum age for marriage of girls from 16 to 18, while Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has reportedly urged state governments to raise the minimum age to 18 for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

SIS previously criticised the Kelantan government for not supporting Mahathir’s call.