What is Child Marriage?
Child marriage is any formal marriage or informal union where one or both of the parties are under 18 years of age.
Child marriage is rooted in gender inequality and the belief that girls and women are somehow inferior to boys and men. Child Marriage is a complex issue which covers several factors such as poverty, lack of education, cultural practices, and insecurity.
But drivers will vary from one community to the next and the practice may be different across regions and countries.
Child brides face huge challenges because they are married as children. Isolated and with limited freedom, married girls often feel disempowered. They are deprived of their fundamental rights to health, education and safety.
Child brides are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. They face more risks of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth, contracting HIV/AIDS and suffering domestic violence. With little access to education and economic opportunities, they and their families are more likely to live in poverty.
Contrary to common belief, child marriages are not isolated issues. It is estimated that in the year 2000, there are more than 11,000 children below the age of 15 who were married, and in 2010, there were more than 140,000 married persons aged between 15-19.1 There was an average of 1029 Muslim child marriage applications per year, between 2011 and 2015.2
Official data in the area of child marriage is scarce. As such, information is sourced through statements in Parliament or statements by Ministers as reported in news articles, and research done by international organisations. It is worrying that the government is not tracking or providing more data on this issue.
1. Department of Statistics, Housing and Population Census 2000 and 2010.
2. JKSM and NRD figures from Deputy Women Minister Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun’s parliamentary reply on May 19, 2016.
Malaysia has a dual legal system which practices a civil legal system and an Islamic (Sharia) legal system. Muslim marriages must be contracted and regulated under the Islamic family laws of each of the states whilst marriages of non-Muslims are regulated under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (LRA) and related federal statutes. In East Malaysia, there is also in existence Native Courts taking on the role as administrators of native and customary laws. The current legislation allows marriages for girls under 16 and provides for exceptions, wherein loopholes exist in the interpretation of “certain circumstances” by those authorised to do so. There is no requirement for the consent of the child, and in reality, parental pressure exists in many cases.
In the long-term, we need to change public perception, to garner family and community support, in order to achieve gender sensitisation. In addition, we need to create awareness to empower our youth, both boys and girls, to speak out for their rights. Sex education must be introduced in school curriculums, which should include creating awareness on causes and harmful impact. Finally, legal reform must be enacted to prevent child marriages.
Source: National Report: Malaysia, on Child Marriage: It’s Relationship with Religion, Culture and Patriarchy by Sisters In Islam, and Women’s Aid Organisation’s working papers
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