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Fearing persecution and child marriages, women's groups call for Suhakam review of Terengganu Shariah amendments

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 4 — Two women's rights groups have called on the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) to conduct a human rights impact assessment of the latest version of the Terengganu Shariah Criminal Offences Enactment 2022, which among others, criminalises pregnancies out of wedlock.

In a joint statement, Sisters in Islam and Justice for Sisters stressed that as a party to the global Convention on Elimination All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on Rights of the Child, Malaysia holds the obligation to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and children.

"The amendments to the Enactment further exacerbate existing harmful impacts on women, young people, LGBTQ persons, among others.

"Given the harms of the amendments and its inconsistencies with the rights guaranteed under the Federal Constitution, we urge Suhakam to undertake a human rights impact assessment of the latest version of the Terengganu Shariah Criminal Offences Enactment 2022," the groups said.

On December 1, the Terengganu government passed four new sections under the Shariah Criminal Offences (Takzir) (Terengganu) Enactment 2001, outlawing witchcraft and shamanism, "females posing as males", females conceiving or giving birth to a child out of wedlock, and sodomy.

"Females posing as males" is an addition to the Shariah offence of "males posing of females", which have traditionally been used to prosecute transgender persons. Similarly, the offence is sodomy is used to prosecute gay persons.

In the statement, the women's groups lamented that the criminalisation of out-of-wedlock pregnancies not only causes unnecessary trauma, but also burdens and shames survivors of sexual assault and others.

"Unicef's Situation Analysis of Adolescents shows pregnant teenagers are denied access to education due to stigma and shame, resulting in them dropping out from school.

"Conversely, the study also cites a 2015 nationwide study that showed a very low knowledge on how to prevent unplanned pregnancies and lack of awareness of contraceptives methods, aside from condoms and birth control pills of young people between 18 and 29 years old," they said.

They also pointed out that the study showed Terengganu as one of three states with the highest cases of child marriages applications via the Shariah courts.

​​​​​​"Sisters in Islam and ARROW’s research shows sex and pregnancy out of wedlock being one of the main contributing factors to child marriage in Malaysia," they said.

ARROW refers to the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women.

​​​​​​"As such, the criminalisation of pregnancy out of wedlock also has reciprocal effect on child marriage, and contribute to an increase of child marriage, perpetuate the cycle of poverty and illiteracy among girls."