Sisters in Islam expresses its deep concerns over the decision by the Malacca Islamic Religious Council to relax the conditions for Muslim girls under the age of 16 and Muslim boys under the age of 18 to marry with the permission of the Syariah court, and to encourage parents to allow their minor children to marry.
We strongly urge the Council to reconsider its decision. Research conducted by UN agencies and women’s groups around the world point to the negative impact of child marriages on the wellbeing of minors and their educational and economic opportunities. Instead of encouraging child marriages, the State government should support the establishment of sexuality education and awareness-raising for students to empower them to make choices based on knowledge of their rights and mutual respect.
Sisters in Islam reiterates its position that in the Qur’an, marriageable age is linked to “sound judgment” and “maturity of mind” (Surah An-Nisa, verse 6). Puberty alone is not sufficient.
Furthermore, the decision by the Malacca Islamic Religious Council contradicts the letter and spirit of Child Act 2001, as well as human rights treaties ratified by Malaysia. Article 16(2) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) prohibits child marriage. Child marriages also violate the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) which affirms that a child has an inherent right to life, health and education.
While we welcome the statement by Datuk Shahrizat Abdul Jalil condemning child marriages as “morally and socially unacceptable”, we urge the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development to work together with the Malaccan state government to sensitise policy makers and religious officials on the impact of child marriages.
We further urge the Malaysian Federal Government to amend civil and Islamic family laws to set the absolute minimum age to marry at 18 years.
Prof. Norani Othman
On behalf of Board of Directors
Sisters in Islam