Muslim rights group fears new govt not interested in fighting underage marriage

Sisters in Islam says PAS does not share its vision to end child marriage in Malaysia.

PETALING JAYA: Muslim women empowerment group Sisters in Islam (SIS) appears not convinced the Perikatan Nasional government is committed to upholding the rights of women and children including refugees and stateless kids, saying the related Cabinet portfolio is now in the hands of a party which does not share such goals.

This comes amid criticism over the appointment of PAS’ Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff as the deputy minister for women, family and community development.

Kelantan, which is ruled by PAS, is among states resisting calls to ban underage marriages among Muslims.

“The vision to end child marriage in Malaysia is not a shared goal between Sisters in Islam and PAS,” SIS said in a statement.

The current legal age for marriage under civil law is 18, while shariah courts are empowered to allow Muslim marriages at 16 or younger.

SIS said it was concerned with PAS’ inclusion in the federal Cabinet despite the party’s stand not to ban underage marriage.

“With PAS in the fold, would the Perikatan Nasional government be at all interested to protect the interest of the child without resorting to marriage as being the answer for her to have a future?” it asked.

SIS said Malaysia has a commitment to fulfil Sustainable Development Goals, which among others call for gender equality, an end to female genital mutilation and equal participation of women in political, economic and public life.

It said the political shift following the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government has an impact on reforms of laws to protect women’s rights, including the tabling of a anti-sexual harassment bill as well as laws to stop workplace discrimination.

“These reforms of laws and policies were advocated in response to the constant and multiple challenges that Malaysian women face every day physically and online. Thus, we do not wish to see these reforms stalled or delayed any longer,” it added.