There is something ethically and psychologically wrong when an adult thinks that it is acceptable to marry a minor. In the case of a self-proclaim imam residing in Gua Musang, Kelantan, the decision to take an 11 year old as his third wife (1), goes beyond the boundaries of illogicality and highlights the grey areas that exist pertaining to child marriages in this country.
Reports have stated that the 11 year old child has ‘never been to school’ and was ‘a friend of one the man’s children’ – the 41 year old man whose children range from ages 5 to 18, has since, proudly proclaimed to have sought ‘consent’ from her parents with the ‘agreement’ for a nikah secara gantung, where the 11 year old child will remain with her parents until she turns 16 years old.
The bane of child marriage is something that needs to be diligently addressed with sound solutions in sight. According to the World Policy Center, 88% of countries set 18 years old as the minimum marriage age, but over half allow minor girls to marry with “parental consent,”. In addition to that, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, more than 700 million women today were married before turning 18 years old, including some 250 million who wed before reaching the age of 15.
Living in a country that has two different judiciary systems – one civil and the other syariah, Malaysian Muslims in this country are often caught in the middle between these two systems. Whereby, several cultural, religious and traditional beliefs fuel the continuation of child marriage in this country – the justifications to allow consent over something horrendous and unhealthy are often made by exploiting religious interpretation.
Early marriages have no place in Islam and more so, in this country because Islam prohibits doing anything that causes harm either to oneself or to others but most importantly, parents are obligated to protect their children from harm. While no minimum age for marriage is stipulated in Islam, reaching puberty, attaining sound judgment and maturity as well as having the capacity to fully understand the rights and responsibilities that comes with marriage – are clear preconditions in Islam.
Child marriage violates girls’ rights to health, education and opportunity as it traps these girls in a cycle of poverty and violence. Many ‘child wives’ are exposed to repeated pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically and psychologically ready.
The dangers of child marriage are too clear and way too obvious to be ignored, with reports constantly reaffirming that child marriage “undermines girls’ health, education and economic opportunities, and increases their risk of experiencing violence” therefore, marriage is a legal contract that should only be reserved for adults who have reached both emotional and physical maturity.
Regardless of the contributing factors or justifications alluded to concede this practice, child marriage is harmful and will have a severe impact on our girls, and on society at large.
The solution is relatively simple. Both federal and state legislators should eliminate the archaic legal exceptions that allow children to wed. It is therefore an obligation of policy makers to protect the rights of the child that our government has committed to uphold.
SYERLEENA ABDUL RASHID
ADUN SERI DELIMA
DAP WANITA NATIONAL ASSISTANT PUBLICITY SECRETARY
DAP WANITA PENANG POLITICAL EDUCATION DIRECTOR