The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) expresses our grave concern at the statement by the Prime Minister’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor on the rarity of child marriages in Malaysia to the international audience she was addressing at the Ford Foundation breakfast meeting in New York, as reported in The Star on 1 October 2015.
The statement by Datin Seri Rosmah mentioned that child marriages in Malaysia are rare because of the low poverty rate of 0.6%. Unfortunately, child marriages in Malaysia occur more often than depicted. In 2010, the Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister. Heng Seai Kie said that approximately 16,000 girls aged below 15 were married. Four years later in 2014, Malaysia yet again caused international concern, as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2014 report recorded that more than 15,000 Malaysian children were married off before the age of 19. These statistics while already worryingly high, are only cases of child marriages that were reported. In addition, in East Malaysia where poverty is higher and development has not reached much of the rural areas, many girls are still married off at a young age. Particularly worrying is the tendency to marry off child rape victims to the perpetrator or to other men deemed suitable by the parents. Child marriages are definitely not rare in Malaysia as mentioned by Datin Seri Rosmah.
JAG deplores downplaying the gravity of occurrences of child marriages in Malaysia. While the law sets a minimum age of marriage for boys and non-Muslim girls at 18, Muslim girls have a lower minimum age of marriage of 16 years. There is a further exception for Muslim boys and girls to marry younger than the set minimum age with the permission of Syariah court. Women’s Rights Groups in Malaysia have been calling to raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 since 1995 upon ratification of CEDAW which is committed to ending child marriage. Furthermore, in its last review of Malaysia, the CEDAW Committee raised concerns of the effect of early marriage on educational opportunities and whether educational achievements are hindered. The Malaysian government is long overdue in responding to these concerns.
With the adoption of the resolution to end child marriage by the Human Rights Council earlier this year, Malaysia should do more to acknowledge the problem of child marriages and take better measures to end it. Therefore, we call for more responsible and accurate depiction of the
occurrences of child marriages in Malaysia especially when presented by public figures, as child marriage is a human rights violation.
Endorsed by the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG):
1. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
2. Association of Women Lawyers (AWL)
3. All Women’s Action Society (AWAM)
4. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO)
5. Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (SAWO)
6. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
7. Sarawak Women for Women Society (SWWS)
8. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)