I applaud the Pakatan Harapan’s move to examine the move to decrease the age of voting to 18 as it is certainly a heroic step in the right direction to restore democracy, youth participation in a clean, free and fair electoral process as well as participating to shape the nation’s future. DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang as been advocating this from 1971 in the Dewan Rakyat and after 47 years we may bear witness to that actually happening in the coming Parliament sitting this July.
In light of lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, I look forward also to the PH leadership to include cementing the age of marriage to minimum 18 with no exceptions for boys and girls regardless of race or religion.
Malaysia as a signatory of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child has a moral duty to put her foot down and once and for all put an end to child marriages by first sealing 18 as the legitimate age to marry with no exceptions as how a young voter would be treated when he or she votes, with no exceptions. While it is common knowledge that the minimum age to marry under the civil law for both boys and girls is 18, however with powers vested in the Syariah courts, the marrying age for Muslim youths is set at 16 or even lower, and under civil law with the permission of the Chief Minister or Menteri Besar a child can get married at 16. A child who marries is a human rights violation as their freedom is compromised, they have health complications during their pregnancies which are both a danger to mother and child, they are more likely to suffer domestic violence, they are most likely not to complete their education, and with stunted knowledge will become attractive commodities to manipulate, exploit and violate. They face a great lack of economic opportunity and participation which will instead add to their disadvantage of neither being able to contribute to the economy nor enjoy the fruits of their labour.
We will face an entire generation of children deprived of their rights to fully live their lives as Malaysians.
The time is now for Malaysia to look at best practices from Muslim nations that have increased their minimum age of marriage to 18 such as in Egypt, Morocco and Algeria.
In my Parliamentary question on 7 March 2016 on statistics on child marriages in Malaysia, the answer given was that between 2011 to September 2015, 2,104 cases of child marriages have been recorded by the National Registration Department for 16 year old non-Muslim girls, of which 680 married boys their age and 1,424 to men over the age of 21. On the other hand, data from the Syariah Judicial Department revealed that between 2005 and 2015, for a period of 10 years, 10,240 cases of child marriages have been recorded. These shocking numbers must be the last of child marriages in Malaysia.
Pakatan Harapan is committed to ensure that the legal system protects women’s rights and dignity as stated in the manifesto and introducing a new law that sets 18 as the minimum age of marriage. It should also take into account Target 5.3.1. of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which Malaysia is committed to, that states state parties must “eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilations” by 2030.
Will the newly minted Barisan Nasional MP’s as an Opposition force to be reckoned support a new law to set the minimum age at 18 without exemptions to get married or an amendment that may be tabled in the coming July sitting, the first for all of us after the people’s tsunami on 9th May 2018?
BN MP’s should not oppose sealing the minimum age of marriage at 18 if they sincerely focus on the future of the nation rather than focusing on the future of their political positions or the future of the bank account balances.
Setting the minimum age to 18 to vote is an honourable step in the right direction in restoring democracy with greater youth participation in the electoral process, but setting the marrying age to 18 with no exceptions will be an outstanding noble gesture to uphold the rights of children to grow with their dignities intact under a Malaysia Baru.
I will be speaking on the role of Parliamentarians and the necessary reforms needed to end child marriages at the Girls Not Brides : The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage this Monday at KLCC along with members of Girls Not Brides and other CSOs that have been championing this issue like Sisters in Islam, Joint Action Group, Women’s Aid Organisation, Women’s Centre for Change and many many other defenders of the rights of children.