COMMENT | G25 believes that it is imperative for the federal government to have a strong commitment to stop the practice of child marriage.
We are disappointed that instead of taking the lead, the Deputy Prime Minister is passing the buck to the National Fatwa Council to issue a fatwa on child marriage so that state authorities will enact under their syariah laws and legislation to make child marriage illegal. As other civil rights activists have commented, there is no assurance that every state will follow the National Fatwa Council’s directive.
In the absence of a national ban on child marriage which includes Muslims, some states where the religious authorities are conservative, will insist that Muslim men must have the right to marry under-aged girls if the syariah court allows it. They will claim that as religion is a state matter, the national fatwa is not binding on the states that prefer to continue with the traditional Islamic recognition of a man's right to marry according to his sexual desire and fantasies.
G25 proposes that to circumvent the reluctance of some states in conforming to the standards of decency for girls to marry when they have reached adulthood, namely the age of 18 or above, and to ensure that all states comply with the ban on under-aged marriage, this medieval practice should be made a federal crime so that the law can be made applicable to all Malaysians, without any exception by reason of race or religion.
As the issues surrounding child marriage are a matter of public concern, G25 members agree with the suggestions that a specific provision should be made to criminalise it under federal law either in the Child Act, 2001 (Act 611), the Sexual Offences Against Children Act, 2017 (Act 792) and the Penal Code. When Parliament makes it a Federal law, no state can issue its own syariah law to permit child marriage for Muslims.
We call on the rulers to openly agree that child marriage be made a crime under Federal law.
Malaysia is under scrutiny under the UN conventions for its lacklustre attitude in upholding the international standards on human rights, women's rights and the rights of children especially girls, from exploitation and sexual slavery.
G25 therefore calls on the Minister of Foreign Affairs to take the lead in making the Malaysian government introduce the necessary reforms and to implement its obligations under Cedaw (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which we are states parties.
This will enhance Malaysia’s international standing as a progressive country which upholds human rights especially the rights of women and girls against all forms of discrimination and exploitation including sexual harassment and forced marriages.
G25 is a collective of top Malay-Muslim professionals and former civil servants.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.