Child marriage often seen as fix for teen pregnancies, says group

Voice of the Children says the government needs to be more proactive in addressing child marriage. (Facebook pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: A children’s advocacy group has attributed the country’s difficulties in dealing with child marriage to what it calls a “warped sense of morality”, saying such arrangements are often viewed as a solution to teenage pregnancies.

Voice of the Children (VoC) said this becomes the focus instead of determining the root of teenage pregnancy and how to reduce it.

“Instead of protecting the institution of marriage, we ‘menghalalkan’ what is haram,” VoC co-founder Sharmila Sekaran told FMT, referring to the legitimisation of premarital sex.

“That’s what I mean by having a very warped mindset.”

Speaking after a screening of the group’s documentary titled “Stolen Futures: Child Marriage in Malaysia” at the Australian High Commission here, she said this approach to resolving teenage pregnancies merely sweeps the problem under the carpet.

Instead, she suggested a child-centred approach which prioritises the well-being of the child in question.

Voice of the Children co-founder Sharmila Sekaran.

“Then we will realise that we should focus on stopping teen pregnancies because we don’t want to force children to get married.”

During a question-and-answer session after the screening, Sharmila said Malaysia had “lost its sense of morality”.

Although marrying off pregnant teenagers is often an attempt to strengthen the sanctity of marriage, she said, many of them later divorce or end up remarrying.

She added that there is very little engagement on the issue in areas where such cases often occur, and accused the government of not being “proactive enough”.

She said not enough government leaders have made a stand against child marriage and are working to address the issue.

She recalled the uproar sparked by the marriage of an 11-year-old girl in Kelantan to a man nearly three decades her senior, noting however that eventually “everything died down”.

“There isn’t that same drive and momentum, or defensiveness over the matter,” she said.
Despite the prime minister’s order that all state governments raise the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 for both Muslims and non-Muslims, she added, little appeared to have happened so far.

“There seem to be a lot of excuses.”