Child marriage is defined as the underage marriage of teenagers or children before they even reach the age of 18 years old. Child marriage is a very crucial social issue in many countries around the world. In a developing nation like Malaysia, this is still a reality here for many children, especially young girls under the age of 18 years old. According to Malaymail, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry of Malaysia had said that in 2020, 543 applications for child marriages, including those approved, were recorded in Malaysia. This is an alarming number of child marriage cases for a developing nation. There are also several child marriages that were not recorded in the system because they were officiated by various religious associations and agencies.
The main reason child marriage is yet to be banned in Malaysia is because of the ignorance of both community and officials regarding the wellbeing of children in Malaysia. Many children are a victim of child marriage where their innocence is exploited in the name of culture and customs. This is a very sensitive topic in Malaysia due Malaysia being a multiracial country with various cultures and customs being practised here. As not to offend any race, religion or ethnic group involved, most of the time the officials are quiet about banning child marriages in Malaysia. There are several factors that influence child marriage in Malaysia.
Child Marriage Cases in Malaysia
Not only that, in Malaysia, young girls who are victims of child marriages are usually rape victim first where the rapist will then appeal to the Syariah law to allow him to marry his victims. There are many famous rape cases where their verdict had been concluded by allowing the rapist to marry the victim. An example is a case that had happened in Sabah in 2013. A 13-year-old girl was raped by a 40-year-old man who later sought approval from the Syariah Court to marry his victim. Unfortunately, the court has approved his application. This has resulted in backlash from society and activists in Malaysia. The judiciary system has finally taken a stand and went against Syariah Court’s verdict where they sentenced the rapist to prison for 12 years with 2 strokes for underage raping.
Most of the child marriage cases in Malaysia are related to poverty. Most parents will allow their children under the age of 18 years old to marry an adult if they could lead a better life that way. An example of a case is the case where a 15 year old girl marries a 44 year old man at Kelantan with her parents’ blessing.
According to the Girls Not Brides, an activist organisation that advocates against child marriages, it violates child rights if they were to be married off to an adult. An adult marrying a child should be considered a paedophile case in the eyes of law but unfortunately, many times, the system has failed to protect the children by allowing them to be married off to adults that are even 40 years older than them. For example, a child being married off at the age of 10 years old is not ready physically to bear the responsibility of carrying the child in her and because of this, they might have the chances of developing preeclampsia, premature birth or miscarriage. They might also be affected psychologically and be diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or suicidal ideation for not being able to adapt to new changes at such a young age.
Besides that, the taboo on sex before marriage plays an important role in child marriages too. Some religiously believe that having sex before marriage will bring shame to the family of the child and the whole family will go to hell for allowing it to happen. To ensure that the children do no such thing, some parents rush their children for marriage even if the said children are below the age of 18. They believe that as parents they are doing something good for their children, but they fail to see the consequences of this action. The consequences could be the children living in poverty due to lack of a proper job or education and also there were cases of abuse due to marrying really young because they do not have the maturity to deal with any issues responsibly.
What Is Being Done?
According to civil law, the marriage age for both genders is 18 but as for Syariah Law it is 16 for girls and 17 for boys but with the permission of the Chief Minister of the state, the children can even marry at a younger age. As of now according to the statement by the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, only Selangor has changed its Syariah law by setting the age of marriage to 18 years old and above, while 6 more states are making the same changes. But there are 7 states in Malaysia that are refusing to make these changes because they believe that since the permission of the Chief Minister of the states is needed to allow the children under the age of 16 to be married, they do not see any harm in refusing these changes.
Malaysia should sanction a law that protects children and teenagers under the age of 18. The law should be implemented to protect them from being married off either lawfully or according to their culture’s customs. The federal court should sanction the law and ensure every state follows it instead of requesting opinions from every state’s