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SIS Supports Azalina Othman Said’s Statement on Banning Child Marriage

SIS Supports Azalina Othman Said’s Statement on Banning Child Marriage

This statement is in response to Azalina Othman Said’s statement on banning child marriage as featured in Malaysia Kini’s article published on 4th May 2020: (Headline: Banning child marriages – Azalina wants Harapan’s good work to continue)

Sisters in Islam (SIS) welcomes Azalina Othman Said, Pengerang MP’s statement on banning child marriage during her response to a question on whether the Perikatan Nasional government would be successful in banning child marriages and if Umno would support the move.

It is refreshing to see a politician from the current government supporting the efforts to ban child marriage. The issue of child marriage has been long debated and it is a concern if this is not addressed concretely in the short and long term. In January 2020, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD) had launched a 5-year National Strategy Plan to Address the Root Causes of Child Marriage involving 16 strategies and 58 programmes that will be executed by 61 agencies. In addition, just a week before the launch the then-Attorney General had disclosed that the government is studying a proposal to raise the minimum marriage age for Muslims from 16 to 18. SIS hopes that the Perikatan Nasional Government can move swiftly towards legislative reforms necessary to make marriages under the age of 18 illegal.

Child marriage is a harmful cultural practice to children for many reasons. Firstly, the child (who is often a girl child) is deprived of her childhood. She is often denied an education as they are often removed from school hence, perpetuating their experience of discrimination. Particularly, if they are married off to older men, they are incapable of voicing their concerns, especially when it comes to sexual expectations. This results in early pregnancies which can cause a higher risk of maternal and infant mortality. Other long term health complications may arise as a result of pregnancy and childbirth at an early age, prior to the girl child’s body being fully matured. Children who are married young experience a higher degree of domestic abuse and violence.

We urge the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD) to continue their implementation of the National Strategy Plan towards ending child marriage in Malaysia and for the legal marriage to be amended to 18 years without exception. Delays to this amendment will cause more harm to girls and undermine their potential to a better future.