Sisters in Islam (SIS) and the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL) are outraged that the government considers itself ‘powerless’ to nullify the ‘marriage’ between 41-year-old Che Abdul Karim Che Abdul Hamid to his 11-year-old child bride. The Government we voted for must do the correct thing in the best interests of the child which is paramount in all decisions taken involving a child. It is certainly a sad day when our Government washes its hands off and rests on the argument that it is ‘powerless’. No Government is powerless unless it chooses to be.
From the Islamic perspective, allowing child marriage is contrary to the Maqasid Syariah and fiqh (human understanding of Sharia) approaches of prevention of harm ( dar’u al mafasid muqoddamun ala jalbil masholih) . Child marriage not only deprives children of their childhood, but also perpetuates their cycle of poverty by taking them out of school and giving them adult responsibilities. Often married to older husbands, young girls are unable to assert their wishes especially where it comes to sexual expectations. Child brides face higher risks of death in childbirth and pregnancy related issues.
Alarmingly, child brides also experience a higher degree of domestic violence. As there is a clear presence of harm as in the case of child marriage, the wellbeing of the child must be prioritised. It is troubling that the government appears to be dragging its feet in pursuing criminal charges under child grooming and/or statutory rape under Part III of the Sexual Offences Against Children Act (SOAC) 2017 and/or Penal Code, which it is empowered to do. The SOAC was enacted specifically to deal with child sexual abuse and the act of preparing a child for sex. If marriage could be used to circumvent and legalise child sexual abuse then Malaysia has failed in achieving the true purpose of SOAC.
The allegations of sexual grooming has been raised in a police report lodged by child activist, Hartini Zainudin following media reports that the child (then aged seven) had been groomed over a period of years and had gone for holidays with the 41-year-old man and his family. It is also unclear as to whether the child has undergone a full medical examination by the Hospital SCAN Team to ascertain if she has had sexual activity with this man. He must be held accountable and face the full force of the law. The Government must not be complicit in his crime.
The best interests of all children must be at the forefront of the government’s agenda as Malaysia is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To compromise the future of even one child means to jeopardise the potential that she has to contribute towards not only towards the country, but also towards getting her family out of poverty.
While the government mulls over its ‘study’ on how to criminalise child marriage, children like this 11 year old child fall between the cracks. The government cannot simply use the justification of Islamic Laws in order to wash its hands of this and ignore the human rights of this girl child and many others.