PETALING JAYA: The government needs to revive the national plan on child marriage launched by the Pakatan Harapan administration to put a stop to underage marriages, said women NGOs.
Sisters in Islam (SIS) said since the change of government in February 2020, there had been no clear indication if the women, family and community development ministry would implement the national strategic plan in handling child marriage and its causes.
“The government must revisit and act on the plan which was launched in January last year,” a SIS spokesperson told FMT.
The national plan was set up to address six main causes of underage marriage in the country.
The causes include low household income and poverty, lack or no access to sexual and reproductive health education and parenting skills, lack of access to education and poor school attendance.
Other causes that were identified include stigma and social norms on child marriage, loose laws that provide for marriage for those under the age of 18 and coordination of marital data and underage marriage divorce.
The plan comprised seven objectives, 17 strategies and 58 programmes with a mix of short-term, medium-term and long-term programmes to run from 2020 to 2025.
The plan outlined 61 agencies to be involved in stages including agencies from the federal government, state governments, non-governmental organisations and international organisations.
The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) too agreed that the national plan should be revived.
“The government needs to have the political will to put an end to child marriage and follow through with the national strategic plan.
“The implementation must be monitored to ensure that there is a clear ban on child marriage,” said a WAO spokesperson.
Both SIS and WAO also agreed with the move to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18.
“Those who proceed to solemnise informal unions must be heavily penalised,” said WAO.
SIS said currently the minimum age of marriage was not standardised between state governments.
“The shariah courts can grant permission for child marriage under the state’s Islamic family law. To date, only Selangor has amended the minimum legal marriage age for Muslims to 18 years old while the federal territories (Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan), Penang, Sabah, Johor, Melaka and Perak have agreed to amend their Islamic family laws.
“However, seven states – Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan – have yet to agree to raise the legal marriage age to 18 years old,” it said.
On Oct 17, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said religious leaders must lead the way in reforms towards the abolition of child marriages in the country.
WAO, however, said religion must not be the main criteria.
“While we support his (Syed Saddiq’s) comments on the abolition of child marriage, it is important to note that child marriage is not driven solely by religious beliefs, but a host of other factors like poverty.
“We must be careful not to reduce the issue of child marriage to a completely religious one, and avoid underestimating other factors,” said WAO.