Child Marriages Among Non-Muslims On The Rise

  • 15 Jul 2019

Child marriages involving non-Muslims have been steadily on the rise in the past four years, statistics from National Registration Department (NRD) show. 

According to official records, more girls under the age of 18 are getting hitched, compared to boys, and urban poverty and the lack of sex education are to be blamed, say concerned groups. 

Last year, there were 930 child marriages recorded, compared to 436 cases in 2015. This is more than double in just four years. 

NRD records show that between January 2013 and December 2017, there were 2,755 non-Muslim child marriages.

There were 5,362 Muslim child marriage applications in the same period. 

Non-Muslims are allowed to marry from the age of 18, but girls can marry at 16, provide they have the permission of the menteri besar's of chief minister's office. 

In Sabah and Sarawak, customary laws stipulate that the minimum age for marriage is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. Both, however, can be permitted to marry below that age, with the written consent of a parent or legal guardian.

As for the Muslims, the minimum age of marriage is 16 for girls and 18 for boys, except in Selangor, where the minimum age requirement for girls is also 18. Sabah has also agreed to set the minimum age to marry at 18.

However, exceptions can be made for both sexes to marry earlier, with the consent of the Syariah Court. 

Lack of sex education to blame

Batu Kawan MP Kasthuriraani Patto, who is a fierce advocate of making the minimum marriage age to 18, called this increase a "great concern".

Meera Samanter, the assistant treasurer of Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) said the reason for the rise in child marriages involving non-Muslims could be urban poverty and the lack of sex education.

Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, a Professor of Law in family, woman and children with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) echoed similar concerns. 

She said that youths as young as 10 or 12, regardless of their racial and religious background, are getting involved in sexual activities. 

International Women’s Alliance For Family and Quality Education (Wafiq) president Assoc Prof Dr Rafidah Hanim Mokhtar said the child marriage menace would be neglected among the non-Muslims it is continued to be viewed as a Muslim issue. 

“The Orang Asli, for example. They also have a high number of child marriages and there could be problems where they don’t go to schools. So when we talk about child marriages, do not subject them to religion or even ethnicity,” she was quoted telling The Star. 

She believes that there are still many cases of underage marriages and teenage pregnancies, unrecorded in Sabah and Sarawak. 

Issues like providing education to children should be prioritised before strict laws are imposed against child marriage, she said.

“How can you talk about making it compulsory not to marry but you don’t have schools? Some of them don’t even have (exam) certificates to begin with.

“We need education. We must have these infrastructures before we impose these very strict laws,” she was quoted.

Source: The Star
Photo source: Astro Awani

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