PETALING JAYA: The number of child marriages registered under the Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Department (JKSM) has fallen in the last five years, but Unicef Malaysia believes there may actually be an upward trend in child marriages, with the pandemic which has forced poor children out of school early.
Speaking at a Unicef forum on ending child marriages this morning, Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) children’s commissioner Noor Aziah Mohd Awal said data from the department showed that 692 child marriages were registered last year, compared with 785 in 2019 and 1,144 in 2015.
Of the 692 registrations in 2020, only 451 were eventually approved.
She said it was a result of states adhering to the standard operating procedure (SOP) established by JKSM, where a shariah judge will request for medical and social reports before approving a marriage application.
She also said a representative from the Kedah shariah chief judge’s office revealed that the SOP had caused the number of child marriage applications in the state’s rural areas to decline.
“Although there is a reduction in applications and approved applications, it still means children are being allowed to marry under Islam,” she said.
Noor Aziah said Pahang was also raising its minimum legal marriage age to 18, making it the only other state that has amended its Islamic family laws, apart from Selangor.
Noting that child marriage was often used as a solution for out-of-wedlock pregnancies, she called for better sex education in the country.
“We don’t talk enough about how marriage is used as a quick solve to avoid ‘zina’ (illicit sexual relations),” she said. “We shouldn’t be forcing children into early parenthood when they barely understand the urges that landed them there themselves.”
Meanwhile, Unicef Malaysia said there appeared to be an “upward trend” for child marriages in the country, likely as a result of the pandemic during the past year.
Its child protection chief, Sarah Norton-Staal, said the virus and its lockdown restrictions had “intensified the risk factors for child marriage”, such as poverty, which would lead to more school dropouts.
Children out of schools may then be forced into early marriages to ease the family’s financial burden.
However, she said there was still a lack of official data and various issues surrounding registration of marriages, which made it “difficult to ascertain the exact figures or patterns”.