Malaysia can’t keep condoning child marriage, says SIS

Ida Nadirah Ibrahim
Students protest against child marriage outside the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur November 13, 2018. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 — Malaysia cannot afford to prolong child marriage as it is a practice that perpetuates poverty and is counter-productive to children’s health and intellectual development, says Muslim women rights advocacy group Sisters in Islam.

The group said today that the country cannot afford to deprive any child from the opportunity to achieve her highest potential for the country.

“SIS is concerned that continued delay in amending laws to end child marriage comes at the expense of hundreds of children who continue to be exposed to this vulnerability.

“...while efforts by JAKIM to amend the Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) 1984 (Act 303) to increase the marriageable among Muslims age to 18 years old is commendable, we are disappointed that seven states have expressed their objection to increasing the age of marriage in their states,” SIS said in a statement.

The group listed Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan as the seven states that must explain to Malaysians why they insist on compromising the futures of children by continuing child marriage.

It said while the marriage applications involving minors under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (Act 164) had been tightened, the adopting standard operating procedures (SOPs) are still left with loopholes that is open to abuse.

SIS had also cited a fatwa issued by al-Azhar University against child marriage and Indonesia’s move to ban the practice by raising the age of marriage in the country as exemplary.

“The fatwa explicitly states that the age of 18 marks the stage at which a woman can validly express her will to marry. The fatwa also states that marrying after the age of 18 will guarantee that she can enjoy her fundamental rights to childhood, education and the capacity to assume the responsibility of marriage.

“Just this week, Indonesia became the latest Muslim-majority country to ban child marriage by raising the age of marriage in the country to 19 years. Other Muslim-majority countries that have banned child marriage are Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan, Iraq and Jordan.

“As such, we reiterate our call that the minimum age of marriage must be raised to 18 years old for both boys and girls, Muslim and non-Muslims, with no exceptions,” the statement read.

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