'No, child marriages in Malaysia are not rare!'
Women’s groups in the country have refuted the claim by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, that child marriages in the country are rare.
In a statement today, the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) expressed its concern over Rosmah’s claim , which was made at the Breakfast Panel on 'Girls, not Bride', at the Ford Foundation in New York on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, child marriages in Malaysia occur more often than depicted,” JAG said. “Child marriages are definitely not rare in Malaysia, as mentioned by Rosmah.”
Rosmah had stated that child marriages in Malaysia were rare because of the existence of a good education system and the low poverty rate at 0.6 percent.
She also said child marriages in Malaysia happened only in certain circumstances, such as legalising out of wedlock pregnancies and preventing social misconduct, such as free sex, drug abuse and gangsterism, and runaway incidents.
Citing then women, family and community development deputy minister Heng Seai Kie in 2010, JAG pointed out that approximately 16,000 girls aged below 15 were married in that year.
“Four years later, in 2014, Malaysia yet again caused international concern, with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2014 Report recording that more than 15,000 Malaysian children were married off before the age of 19.
“These statistics, while already worryingly high, are only cases of child marriages that were reported,” JAG said.
Also, many girls were still married off at a young age in East Malaysia, where poverty is higher and development has not reached much of the rural areas.
‘Tendency to marry off child rape victims worrying’
“Particularly worrying is the tendency to marry off child rape victims to the perpetrator or to other men deemed suitable by the parents.“JAG deplores downplaying the gravity of occurrences of child marriages in Malaysia.”
Meanwhile, on the adoption of the resolution to end child marriage by the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year, JAG said Malaysia should do more to acknowledge the problem of child marriages and take better measures to end it.
“Therefore, we call for more responsible and accurate depiction of the occurrences of child marriages in Malaysia, especially when presented by public figures, as child marriage is a human rights violation,” the group said.
JAG consists of Sisters in Islam (SIS), Association of Women Lawyers (AWL), All Women’s Action Society (Awam), Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), Sabah Women's Action Resource Group (Sawo), Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS), and Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower).