National plan to tackle child marriage aims to get state laws in sync with federal policies

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (second from left), at the launch of the National Strategy Plan in Handling the Causes of Child Marriage. (Bernama pic)

PUTRAJAYA: Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail today launched the National Strategy Plan in Handling the Causes of Child Marriage which among others aims to ensure that state-level laws, rules and guidelines are in line with federal policies.

It also wants to increase access to education and attendance in schools.

Speaking to the media at the launch of the plan today, Wan Azizah said that it contained programmes and actions to address six factors identified as the causes of child marriage, such as poverty and the lack of access to education.

“Children should be given the right to realise their dreams of a bright future in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” she said.

“The plan has seven objectives, 17 strategies and 58 programmes aimed at addressing the root causes of child marriages over the next five years,” added Wan Azizah, who is also the Women, Family and Community Development Minister.

The plan is also expected to streamline the work done by the 61 agencies involved in tackling child marriages in Malaysia.

Apart from increasing the effectiveness of social protection and assigning household living aid to B40 households, the plan is also aimed at ensuring children gain access to Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) education and health services and understand the importance of protecting themselves from activities that cause teenage pregnancy.

Selangor increased the minimum age for marriage to 18 in 2018 while Melaka, Perak, Johor, Sabah, Pulau Pinang and the Federal Territories are in the process of doing so.

Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan have refused to raise the minimum age for marriage to 18.

Meanwhile, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Fuziah Salleh said that religious authorities have released interim guidelines which made it compulsory for applications for underage Muslim marriages to be heard at the Syariah High Court.

Parents who made such applications were also required to submit reports from healthcare officials and the Social Welfare Department to confirm their children’s medical and mental health.

In addition, the children’s parents would also be interviewed by Syariah High Court judges to determine the underlying factors surrounding their applications.

“While we try to increase the age in other states, this is the interim decision we have taken to make sure parents don’t marry off their kids so easily,” said Fuziah.