Deputy minister Hannah Yeoh has said the government must raise the basic age of marriage to 18 because the Pakatan Harapan coalition has committed to resolving the issue of child marriage in its election campaign.
“We cannot make excuses,” the deputy minister of women, family and community development told the Malay Mail. “The way I see it, we have no choice. We have committed to this in our manifesto, we have to work towards that.”
Prior to the 14th general election, Harapan had made five pledges to improve the status of women in the country. One of them was “ensuring the legal system protects women's rights and dignity”, which included “introducing a law that sets 18 as the minimum age of marriage”.
The Segambut MP expressed alarm over the number of child marriages taking place over the last decade.
She cited “staggering” statistics on child marriage cases obtained from the Syariah Judiciary Department and the National Registration Department, for Muslims and non-Muslims respectively.
Between 2007 and 2017, there were 10,807 cases of child marriage involving Muslims. Sarawak, Kelantan and Sabah were the top three states where these marriages took place.
During the same period, non-Muslims were involved in 4,999 child marriages, with the top three states being Sarawak, Johor, and Perak.
'We need to know why the numbers are so high'
Yeoh acknowledged that legislation prohibiting child marriage would not entirely eradicate the problem.
“Today if you (were to) announce a ban, which I fully support, it doesn’t solve the problem immediately. The problem doesn't go away immediately. We need to know why the numbers are so high.
“We need to prepare the community for such a legislation, for a ban,” Yeoh said, advocating for the public to be educated on the harm to the child in such marital unions.
On Wednesday, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa said the government would introduce short-term measures to tighten provisions for child marriage until a complete ban could be implemented.
Recently, Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail came under fire when she said Putrajaya was powerless to nullify the controversial marriage between an 11-year-old Thai girl and a 41-year-old man in Kelantan.
This, she said, was because the Islamic laws of the states allow those under the age of 16 to be wed with permission from the syariah court.
“Legally it is not valid, but under Islamic laws it is,” Yeoh added.