MP SPEAKS | The latest child marriage case, this time involving a 15-year-old who was married off to a 44-year-old People’s Volunteer Corp (Rela) member, is yet another example of why there is an urgent need to raise the legal marriage age to 18 years old for all Malaysians.
If we are not firm and avoid acting quickly on child marriage, we are letting others know that we condone child marriage. There needs to be more done to deter this practice from occurring in our society.
Child marriage is a violation of human rights, and this practice deprives a child of their right to enter into a marriage on their free will , as well as deterring her from living a fuller life and with dignity.
Under no circumstance is a child bride given the choice nor capacity to make their own decision regarding this matter.
Child brides are often victims of violence, abuse and forced into sexual relations. They face severe health consequences, especially from early pregnancy and they are not psychologically, and physically mature to make informed decisions about their sexual health.
Child marriage often sees the end of a child’s education and leaves them with a life of poor prospects and state of dependency.
The government needs to ensure that all relevant stakeholders, including syariah judges, community leaders and parents understand the harmful effects of child marriage.
This latest case of child marriage in Kelantan demonstrates the need to educate syariah judges on the dangers of child marriages. Judges often make these considerations based on the economic situation of the child’s family, without reflecting on the harmful impact on the child and his/her right to make key decisions about his/her own future and their well-being.
Judges must be careful not to get carried away by the emotional pleas of parents who claim that they are thinking in terms of providing a better future for their child.
Changing laws and bringing the age of marriage to 18 years are just not enough because perspectives have to change to act in the interest of the child. Children have different rights because childhood is a special time in their lives.
It is a time when children, because of their vulnerability, they need special consideration, care, nurturing and protection. This allows children to survive, thrive and realise their full potential as productive members of society.
Syariah judges and relevant agencies have to be re-trained on child rights and freedom, as set by the Child Act 2001 and the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, as this will ensure a greater sensitivity towards children and their rights.
Parents and community leaders should also be made to understand that child marriage does little to break the cycle of poverty, and further cements the discrimination of women in our society. Instead, they should focus on empowering their children through education and promoting gender equality.
While the government considers a law to raise the minimum age, it is also necessary to focus on educating members of the public, especially among those communities where child marriages frequently occur, on the harmful effect of such practices.
MARIA CHIN ABDULLAH is the MP for Petaling Jaya.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.