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Call for gov’t to buck up and address child marriages urgently

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The fact that child marriages continue to happen, shows the government's lack of political will to address the issue, Sisters in Islam (SIS) said.

In a statement released today, the NGO expressed concern that the "normalisation" of such marriages would affect the future of girls in the country.

The statement referred to the recent two cases in Kelantan, the latest of which involved a 15-year-old who was married off as the second wife to a 44-year-old People’s Volunteer Corp (Rela) member - a father of two.

The New Straits Times quoted the girl’s parents as saying that poverty drove them into giving their consent to the marriage, which was solemnised at the Masjid Kampung Laut in Tumpat in July.

The other case was brought to public attention when a 15-year-old went missing last Saturday, after disembarking at the Pasir Mas train station, while travelling with her 30-year-old husband from Tumpat to Gua Musang.

According to media reports, the couple had gotten married two months ago.

"Taking into consideration that one of the girls has even run away, it demonstrates the unfair power dynamics of child marriage which unfortunately puts girls on the losing end.

"The ongoing trend of child marriage clearly shows that current SOPs severely lack the safeguards required to act in the child’s best interest and to protect their welfare," said SIS.

In both cases of child marriages, the girls are school dropouts. SIS said this shows that the system has failed to prioritise education for the young and empower their families with economic means to keep their children in school.

"It is indeed disturbing to realise that even in the era of Malaysia Baru, families are driven to economic desperation to the point that they would marry their children off so that they can 'have a better life.'

"What is even more worrying that we have not matured as a society to be able to tell them that keeping children in school is a more sustainable means of breaking the poverty cycle."

SIS urged the government to stop hiding behind the excuse that it is "powerless" to act against child marriages.

The more the government delays in acting against the issue, the more girls will fall victim to such marriages, it cautioned.

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