COMMENT | Pasir Putih MP Nik Mazian Nik Mohamad made a mockery of our institutions yesterday, by opposing a ban on child marriages by justifying that, "If we restrict them from getting married, (their) lust will remain, and they will be exposed to premarital casual sex.”
Not only is this justification sexist, it is a huge blow to social justice and human rights in our country.
Child marriage is catastrophic. Common sense dictates that it is immoral and the response given by Nik Mazian, indicate the distressing deterioration of reason and logic in our present day society. According to Unicef, approximately over ‘700 million women alive today were married as children’ and similar reports by the UN, estimate that between 2011 and 2020, over 140 million children - mostly, girls, will become child brides.
Although in Malaysia, the legal minimum age for marriage under civil law for both genders is 18, girls can marry at 16 under Islamic law - and sometimes even younger with the consent of the Syariah Court. In 2014, the Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Department received roughly 600 marriage applications for couples below the age of consent and approximately 446 of these applications have been approved by the department.
Young girls who marry early put themselves at risk because they become susceptible to various health risks that are both physically and psychologically harmful. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for young mothers below the ages of 18.
Even though Malaysia has adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which actively endorses to end child marriages and to protect the rights of children by honouring civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights; statistical data and the reactions displayed by several of our male elected leaders show that there is very little political will to see this atrocity come to an end.
Child marriage is a gross violation of human rights because it robs children of their adolescence. It puts children in situations where the level and quality of education are severely compromised, hence, barring them from actively participating in this country’s labour force.
It simply hinders any opportunity for them to gain skills, develop proficiency and mature as coherent adults in an increasingly globalised culture. These issues are enough to reaffirm why child marriages must never be allowed.
Child marriages occur not because of religious sanctions but because of patriarchal cultural systems that allow such marriages to take place.
The most common reasons for child marriage are poverty, lack of education, gender inequality in society, insufficient laws and the cultural belief that a girl ‘would be safer once married’. In these communities, decisions are being made by men (i.e. political and religious leaders) and women often feel incapable of making their voices heard. Therefore, we must empower both girls and women through education and raise awareness to ensure they understand their rights.
Child marriage is just another form of modern day slavery and has nothing to do with preventing ‘lustful girls engaging in casual sex’. There are ways to combat social ills but sanctioning something that only legitimises paedophilia is not something Malaysians need to be associated with.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID is DAP Wanita national assistant publicity secretary, Penang DAP assistant publicity secretary, Penang DAP Wanita political education director and MBPP councillor.