Federal Government Must Step In To Uphold Children’s Best Interest

The seven states who refuse to cooperate in banning child marriage – Sarawak, Pahang, Terengganu, Perlis, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah and Kelantan – need to explain to all Malaysians their reasons for their decision. This is despite policymakers, child psychologists, healthcare practitioners, economists and even religious institutions stating the exponential harms caused by child marriages.

In putting the best interest of children first, the Pakatan Harapan government needs to explain what is being done to compel the seven states that refuse to cooperate. Stating that the Federal Government is unable to proceed just because seven states opposes reduces critical national issues to be determined at the state level. As harm to our children is clearly evident, it is the responsibility of the elected Federal Government to step in and act in their best interest.

Sisters in Islam (SIS) is also shocked by the response by Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah who said today that criminal elements in circumstances of grooming children for sexual acts under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act, “cannot be proven.” Dr Wan Azizah also said that it is difficult to determine the sexual crime after a groomed child is married, as “many parents feel that it is good for the child to be married off.”

These responses by the Deputy Prime Minister is not only irresponsible, but deliberately puts the lives and futures of these child victims in grave danger, where laws are supposed to be there to protect them.

While Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has stated that the draft of the National Strategic Plan to tackle the issue of child marriages is at its final stage, we would like to know if the draft had included engagements with civil society organisations, especially those working on women’s and children’s rights.

We also want to know if SUHAKAM’s Children’s Commissioner had been included in the drawing of this strategic plan.

In June this year, the al-Azhar, considered by sunni Muslims to be the highest authority of Islamic jurisprudence, issued a fatwa against child marriage.

The fatwa explicitly states that the age of 18 marks the stage at which a woman can validly express her will to marry. The fatwa also states that marrying after the age of 18 will guarantee that she can enjoy her fundamental rights to childhood, education and the capacity to assume the responsibility of marriage.

Malaysia’s neighbours Thailand and Indonesia have legally banned child marriage in December 2018 and September 2019 respectively. Other Muslim-majority countries that have banned child marriage are Egypt, Kenya, Pakistan, Iraq and Jordan.

Sisters in Islam strongly reiterate our call that the minimum age of marriage must be raised to 18 years old for both boys and girls, Muslim and non-Muslims, with no exceptions.