If India, Indonesia can ban child marriage, why can’t we, asks activist

Putrajaya has said it will continue asking state religious departments to ban child marriages. (File pic)

PETALING JAYA: The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) has urged Putrajaya to explain the delay in banning child marriages, citing the example of neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and India which have already put an end to the practice.

WAO executive director V Sumitra said Putrajaya should take charge of banning underage marriages in 2020 instead of waiting for approval from the state governments.

“If Indonesia and India can ban child marriages, why can’t we? What’s wrong with us?

“If we prioritise the welfare of the child, the rest is just background noise,” the lawyer told FMT.

Indonesia’s Parliament recently revised the country’s marriage law to raise the minimum age to 19, a move welcomed by campaigners as a step towards curbing child marriage in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation.

V Sumitra.

In India, meanwhile, marriage is prohibited for women under 18 and men under 21.

Sumitra urged the federal government to make a clear stand and incorporate a ban on underage marriages in the Child Act 2001.

She also called for a clear policy to stop such marriages from next year onwards, saying young girls are vulnerable to domestic violence and likely to discontinue their education and be deprived of proper medical attention.

“We are tired of waiting. If the federal government put the welfare of children first, it would not delay this matter anymore.”

On Nov 20, de facto Islamic affairs minister Mujahid Yusof Rawa said his ministry would continue asking the various state religious departments to ban child marriages.

So far, Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan have refused to raise the marital age to 18.

Sumitra said the welfare department should do its duty to prevent further child marriages while awaiting the amendment to the Child Act.

“If parents are intending to give a 14-year-old child away in marriage, the officers need to step in,” she said, adding that this could be done by applying in court to become guardian to the child in question.