It’s time for the government to amend civil and syariah laws to ban child marriage

The story that a Yemani 8-year-old girl died of internal injuries that she suffered on her wedding night is horrifying and heartbreaking.

After the tragedy, it is reported that Yemen’s human rights minister Huriya Mashhoor has now vowed to ban child marriage and would press parliament for the minimum age of marriage to be set at 18.

It is time for Malaysia to amend our laws to ensure that such tragedy will not repeat in Malaysia.

In May this year, a 40-year-old man, Riduan Masmud, from Sabah went on to take his 12-year-old rape victim as his second wife.

And this is only the tip of iceberg. The 2000 Population and Housing Census revealed that 6,800 girls under the age of 15 were married, with Malays recorded the highest incidence of child marriage at 2,450, followed by other Bumiputeras 1,550, Chinese 1,600, Indians 600 and others 600.

The data also showed that 235 children between the ages of 10 and 14 were already widowed and 77 divorced or permanently separated.

On the other hand, statistics from the state Islamic Religious Department also show a 35% increase in marriage applications involving underaged individuals between 2008 and 2010 in Kedah. The department received 75 marriage applications from underaged individuals in 2008, 99 in 2009 and 101 in 2010. Of the total, 90% involved girls under 16.

Under Malaysian law, the legal age for marriage for non-Muslims is 18. However, marriages are allowed for those between 16 and 18 with written consent from the chief minister.

For Muslims, the legal age of marriage for males is 18 and females, 16. With the permission of the syariah court, however, Muslims can marry at any age.

First of all, the legal age for marriage for both Muslins and non-Muslims should be the same, especially when there is no scientific evidence to prove how religion affects one’s mental and physical maturity.

It is time for our government to amend civil and syariah laws to ban child marriage. Not only because girls between 10 and 14 years of age are five times more likely than women aged 20 to 24 to die in pregnancy and childbirth, but also because child brides are less likely to complete their education, and more vulnerable to physical, sexual and mental abuse.

Take action, before it is too late.

DAP Assistant National Publicity Secretary & MP for Kulai
Media statement by Teo Nie Ching in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, 24th September 2013