Child marriages allow violence to continue, stop them, says NGO

Awam says Putrajaya must not view child marriage as simply a religious matter. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: Another NGO has called on the government to put an end to child marriages for good by pursuing a zero-tolerance stance on the matter.

The All Women’s Action Society (Awam) claimed the lack of regulations and punitive measures on child marriages allowed gender-based violence to occur.

“At a time where the government has unveiled the Shared Prosperity Vision which aims to address some issues of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment at the workplace, increasing maternity leave, and incentivising women to return to the workforce, where does child marriage – a situation that provides the opportunity for a man to abuse a young girl – fit in?

“The government must not view child marriage as simply a religious matter but a social matter. Awam believes that there is a strong correlation between opportunity and violence,” the society said in a press statement today.”

AWAM’s statement comes after Women, Family and Community Development Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said seven states were resisting calls to raise the minimum age for marriage.

Awam is the second NGO after Sisters In Islam (SIS) to take such a stand.

At the Dewan Rakyat today, Wan Azizah, who is also deputy prime minister, said only Selangor had amended its laws on child marriages, while five others – Penang, Sabah, Johor, Melaka and Perak – were expected to follow suit.

Meanwhile, Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan have refused to raise the marital age.

Awam went on to note that from 2007 to 2017, there were 15,000 cases of child marriages in Malaysia.

“This equates to 15,000 lives that society has cheated of the rights of consent, education, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and to invest in a future of their own choosing,” it said.

Awam noted that this was not in-line with Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto, especially those with promises pertaining to security and dignity of women.

Awam has urged all ministers to tackle the issue before more Malaysian girls become victims of child marriages, noting that society cannot progress if such archaic customs are allowed to continue.

“Malaysia is better than this. Stop child marriage once and for all.”