Muslim group says Putrajaya must compel states to raise marriage age to 18

Many parts of the Muslim world have banned child marriages, says Sisters in Islam in renewing calls for Putrajaya to address the problem. (AFP pic)

PETALING JAYA: Muslim women’s empowerment group Sisters in Islam (SIS) today took to task Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail after the deputy prime minister suggested that it was difficult to prove sexual grooming under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act.

This comes after Wan Azizah, who is also the women, family and community development minister, said seven states are resisting calls to raise the minimum age for marriage.

“These responses by the deputy prime minister are not only irresponsible, but deliberately put the lives and futures of these child victims in grave danger, where laws are supposed to be there to protect them,” said SIS in a statement.

At the Dewan Rakyat today, Wan Azizah said only Selangor has amended its laws on child marriages, while five others – Penang, Sabah, Johor, Melaka and Perak – are expected to follow suit.

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

SIS said the seven states must explain the reasons for their decision.

“This is despite policymakers, child psychologists, healthcare practitioners, economists and even religious institutions stating the exponential harms caused by child marriages,” it said.

SIS also asked if the National Strategic Plan being drafted by Putrajaya to tackle child marriage had taken into account the views of organisations concerned with women’s and children’s rights, as well as the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam).

It said Putrajaya has the duty to compel states to amend their laws to protect children, adding that many parts of the Muslim world including Indonesia have already taken steps to address the problem.

SIS also cited a fatwa against child marriage issued by Egypt’s Al-Azhar University.

“The fatwa explicitly states that the age of 18 marks the stage at which a woman can validly express her will to marry. The fatwa also states that marrying after the age of 18 will guarantee that she can enjoy her fundamental rights to childhood, education and the capacity to assume the responsibility of marriage,” said SIS.