Oct 07, 2013

    Child marriage on the rise in Malaysia

    IN MALAYSIA, girls under the age of 16 cannot legally drive or buy cigarettes. They cannot even watch certain movies or go clubbing.

    But they can marry, and many are increasingly doing so, according to statistics from the Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Department (JKSM).

    In Malaysia, the legal minimum marriage age is 18, but it is 16 for Muslim girls. Those aged below 16 can marry with the consent of the Syariah Court.

    Last year, there were around 1,165 applications for marriage in which one party, usually the bride, was below the legal marrying age.

    The Syariah Court approved 1,022 of them. This is an increase from the 2011 record, when some 900 marriages involving at least one Muslim minor were approved.

    As of May this year, JKSM received 600 marriage applications, of which 446 were approved.

    Equal-rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) said it was shocking that child marriage still existed in the country because of loopholes in the marriage laws and a continuing belief that girls should be married off once they reached puberty.

    "We stand by the United Nations findings that child marriage is harmful to children, and girls, in particular, are vulnerable to abuse, health problems, difficulty in accessing education and loss of childhood and adolescence," said SIS legal officer Kartina Mohd Sobri.

    Malaysia, along with over 90 countries, adopted a UN resolution to end early or forced child marriages at a Human Rights Council meeting last week.

    According to Islamic Development Malaysia Department director-general Haji Othman Mustapha, getting married at an early age "is not forbidden in Islam, but the couple have to be mature enough to understand that with matrimony comes great responsibility".

    He said: "The couple have to know if they are prepared for married life... Most importantly, they need to understand the real reason (that) they are marrying."