Sisters in Islam (SIS) is disappointed with the role of the syariah court in failing to protect and safeguard the future of Malaysia’s Muslim girls. In the recent news reports involving the marriage of a 12-year old girl to a 19 year old youth, it is shocking to note that the Syariah Court approved the application, and begs the question what criteria and expert opinion the judge used to determine the girl’s readiness for marriage.
It is shocking that this practice still exists in a country like Malaysia because of a loophole in the Islamic Family Law and a continuing belief that Muslim girls can be married off once they reach puberty.
We deplore statements by government officials and religious authorities giving tacit approval to the practice of child marriage or passing off responsibility to the Syariah Court to determine its “permissibility”. No marriage of a child can be deemed acceptable; it simply legalises statutory rape.
The lenient sentencing of two youths convicted for statutory rape earlier this year sparked a public outcry. It led to the government proposing the removal of judicial discretion, with the aim of ‘protecting young girls’. According to government statistics, almost 6,000 rape cases have been reported since 2007 which represented an average of four girls under 16 being raped a day. Are we to believe that a marriage certificate nullifies the harm that these young girls experience?
The Syariah court, in this case, absolved the responsibility of the girl’s father and handed it over to a 19-year old unemployed youth. How can he be expected to provide and protect a 12-year old girl when he himself needs to be protected and provided for? What about the future of the young bride? She is very likely to discontinue pursuing an education. If she does, it will not be her priority because her focus is now on becoming a good wife.
Many studies have shown that child marriage is harmful to children. Girls in particular suffer, among other things
- Health problems due to early pregnancies: young brides often lack access to contraception and sexual reproductive health services and information. They are exposed to frequent sexual relations and to repeated pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically mature and psychologically ready. Pregnancy related deaths are the leading cause of mortality in 15-19 year old girls, and girls age 15 years or under are five times more likely to die than those over 20.
- Difficulty in accessing education: once married, girls tend not to go to school
- Abuse: sexual and physical violence are common in child marriages, and young brides are less likely to take action
The loss of childhood and adolescence: the loss of childhood and adolescence, the forced sexual relations and the denial of freedom and personal development have profound psychosocial and emotional consequences on girls;
Despite repeated calls for reform, the Government continues to ignore the harmful effects of child marriage. The stark reality is that it is not as uncommon as politicians claim it to be: according to 2000 census, 6800 girls below the age of 15 and 4600 boys were married. Unfortunately, this data is not available in the 2010 census and hides the potential magnitude of the actual numbers on the ground.
We call upon the Malaysian government to take action to put a complete stop to the practice of child marriage, as it entails many economic, social and health risks, and does not protect girls or secure their future. It also violates Malaysia’s laws and international obligations under Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Beijing Platform for Action and the Putrajaya Declaration of the Non-Aligned Movement.